For Students

The Ultimate Guide to Literary and Poetic Devices

Boost your literary and poetic analysis skills with our guide. Featuring over 300 techniques across 70+ pages, this guide offers clear definitions, detailed explanations, and practical examples.

Max Milstein
Manager Apex Tuition Australia
July 4, 2024
|
25
min read

If you are a student studying in Australia, understanding literary and poetic devices will be critical to your success in school, especially if you are studying English or Literature.

As English is a compulsory unit for all students in Australia, being able to use the correct literary or poetic device will be instrumental in your final score. The more devices you are familiar with, the more likely you will be able to use them when doing literally analysis.

We have created the ultimate guide to poetic and literary devices, featuring over 70 pages of detailed definitions, explanations of the impact and function of the device, as well as examples. This guide has been instrumental for over 1,000 students in significantly improving their English scores across VCE, HSC, QCE, SACE, WACE and the IB.

This guide covers all the basic and standard terms you may be familiar with. But we go deep and uncover very advanced devices that will surely impress your examiners, especially when used correctly!

Check out all the literary and poetic devices below! We have split the devices up into some categories:

  • The sounds of words
  • The meaning of words
  • Tropes
  • Schemes: structures & repetition
  • Rhetoric
  • Key elements of Literature
  • Types and forms of literature
  • Devices specific to poetry
  • Metre
  • Dramatic devices
  • Forms of drama/plays
Moreover, if you want more literary devices and terms you can check out our Ultimate Guide to Metalanguage

The sounds of words

Alliteration

Definition: repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words placed near each other (same line or adjacent lines)

Function: Alliteration can make something in a poem stand out or seem obvious; it serves to direct our attention to particular words. Furthermore, it can make a certain phrase seem catchy or appealing – this can be seen in many phrases, such as the phrase ‘tongue twister’. 

Example: ‘Five miles meandering with a mazy motion’.

Consonance

Definition: The repetition of the sounds of consonants within a phrase/sentence. In this regard, consonance is a form of alliteration, but is more specific to only consonant sounds.

Function: It creates a rhythmic effect, enhances the musical quality of the text, and can emphasize particular words or themes.

Example:

  • Sing sweet songs for Suzy
  • The red telephone rang readily, however with redundancy, as the Roger family were off ruminating in the ruins of Romania. 
  • The wings of the wasp were washed
  • Wendy wailed and wept when William wickedly wed with another woman.

Assonance

Definition: The repetition of the sounds of vowels within a phrase/sentence. As with consonance, assonance is indeed alliteration but is unique in being specific to only vowel sounds.

Function: It helps to create internal rhyme, enhances the musicality of the language, and can evoke specific moods or emotions.

Example: 

  • A long song 
  • In vain, I disdainfully remained obdurate and proclaimed my certainty of the correct way to play the game. 

Cacophony

Definition: Refers to the use of words within a phrase that imply strong, harsh sounds within the phrase. 

Function: These words have jarring and dissonant sounds that create a disturbing, objectionable atmosphere. The use of such a device allows the reader to feel the unpleasantness of the situation. 

Example: Lewis Carrol’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” in one of his novels.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,an

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

  • There are a collection of nonsense words that are unmelodious in nature (cacophony). Alice, the main character, states after reading the poem (and reflects the purpose of the poem): some text
    • “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate”.

Euphony

Description: Euphony refers to the use of words and phrases that are distinguished by having a pleasing and harmonious sound.

Function: Euphony is used to create a pleasant, flowing, and musical effect in poetry and prose. It enhances the aesthetic quality of the text and can evoke a sense of peace, calm, or beauty.

Example: "The moan of doves in immemorial elms, / And murmuring of innumerable bees." — Alfred Lord Tennyson. The use of soft consonants and long vowels creates a melodious and soothing sound.

Rhythm

Description: Rhythm is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry, creating a flow and tempo in the reading of the poem.

Function: Rhythm gives poetry its musical quality and can influence the mood, pace, and tone of the poem. It helps to emphasize certain words or ideas and can enhance the emotional impact of the text.

Example: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate." — William Shakespeare. This line follows the iambic pentameter rhythm, with each line having ten syllables and a pattern of unstressed followed by stressed syllables.

Custom Form

Get your own copy of the Ultimate Guide to Literary and Poetic Devices!

300+ different literary and poetic devices with definitions, explanations, and examples to help you excel in your literary analysis

Thanks for sharing your details! The guide will be emailed to you shortly

------

The meaning of words

Ad Hominem

Definition: Latin meaning – ‘against the man’: a literary term that involves commenting on or against an opponent to undermine them, instead of rationally opposing their arguments.

  • Occurs when people question the opponent or their personal association to an issue rather than the validity of the arguments they present.some text
    • Unskilled arguers often go through this route; they rely on this fallacy as a tool to deceive their audience.

Function: This tactic can undermine the credibility of the opponent and divert attention from the actual issue being debated.

Ambiguity

Define: A word, phrase or statement that contains more than one meaning.

Function: Can lead to vagueness and confusion.

  • The function of ambiguity in literature is to lend deeper meaning to a literary work. By introducing ambiguity, writers give readers the liberty to use their imagination to explore possible meanings. This active participation results in the reader being more involved in the work.

Example: The ambiguity of Hamlet’s character.

  • Hamlet is morally ambiguous. He kills to avenge his father’s death. It is slightly ambiguous as to whether Hamlet feigns insanity for a purpose or whether he is actually becoming insane (although it seems weighted towards the former).

Analogy

Definition: Involves the comparison of an idea/thing to another quite different idea/thing with the aim to explain that thing/idea by comparing to something that is more familiar and comprehensible.

Function: To make it easier for readers to understand an idea that may have been difficult otherwise through comparison. Analogies also develop more interest in the reader as they are an alternative way of viewing and understanding things. They can often be used to provide philosophical insight.

Examples

  • “They crowded very close about him, with their hands always on him in a careful, caressing grip, as though all the while feeling him to make sure he was there. It was like men handling a fish which is still alive and may jump back into the water.” – George Orwell, A Hanging
  • “Life is like a race. The one who keeps running wins the race and the one who stops to catch a breath loses.”

Aphorism

Definition: A statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner, often concerning philosophical, moral and literary areas. The statement must include an element of truth to qualify as an aphorism. Proverbs, adages and clichés are different forms of aphoristic statements.

Function: Making use of aphoristic statements allows a writer to convey philosophical/moral truth in an effective and influential manner. Hence, it brings fascination and interest to a work. Aphoristic statements are also universal and able to speak to a very wide audience.

Examples:

  •  “The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones”
  • “The simplest questions are the hardest to answer”
  • “The apparel oft proclaims the man”

Apostrophe 

Definition: Apostrophe is principally a poetic figure of speech in which a personification is addressed. do NOT confuse it with the punctuation marks “” which mark speech. 

Function: In literature; allows a writer or speaker to detach himself from the constraints of reality and address an imaginary/deceased character in speech. It allows one to address a non-existent person/abstract idea in such a way as if it were present and capable of understanding feelings.

Example:

  • E.g. Macbeth - “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee! I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.” – Macbeth talks to the vision of the dagger before murdering King Duncan.
  • E.g. John Keats’s sonnet “Bright Star” – apostrophe with the point "to dramatize the speaker's yearning and to stress the permanence of space and eternity as contrasted with earthly impermanence." (the star itself is addressed because it has qualities that the speaker desires).

Anthropomorphism and Personification

Definition: Anthropomorphism involves the lending of human qualities to a being or thing that is not human. The non-human subjects are portrayed in such a way that they are actually doing something human. Anthrop = human, morph = shape

Definition: Personification is figurative language that gives human traits (qualities, feelings, actions or characteristics) to in-animate objects, phenomena and animals. The non-human subjects are portrayed in such a way that it seems they have the ability to act like humans; they are personified. 

What’s the difference?

  • Personification is a type of anthropomorphism; however, not all anthropomorphisms are personification. This is the same simplistic concept as women and humans. All women are humans; however, not all humans are women.some text
    • Personification pretends (for literary effect) to ascribe human characteristics to non-human things. In this sense, the subject seems like it is human. When we look at it closely however, it is still in its ‘original form’. some text
      • For example, “The flowers danced in the gentle breeze” – the flowers are personified (flowers don’t dance).
  • The subtle difference with anthropomorphism is that the subject is actually doing or embodying the human quality. Instead of seeming like it is human, it actually is. some text
    • E.g.  George Orwell’s ‘Animal farm’ showcases anthropomorphism; the animals actually act like humans (they wear clothes and walk on two legs). some text
      • Bugs bunny is another example. In fact, any talking animal (think Disney cartoon) is anthropomorphism. 

Examples:

  • “The tree danced in the gentle breeze” – Personification
  • “The tree turned around and told the wind to leave it alone, sitting down with its back to the breeze in protest” – Anthropomorphism 
  • “The fog waltzed through the hills” – still personification
  • “The fog grabbed a partner and emphatically waltzed through the hills to the tune of Piano Man” – Anthropomorphism (Note: Doesn’t always have to be ‘caricature’ or ‘slapstick’. These examples have been used to show the difference betwen the devices.)

Reification

Definition: Treating an abstract concept as if it were a concrete, tangible object. 

Function: Can simplify complex ideas by making them more relatable, but may also obscure the true nature of the concept by oversimplifying. 

Example: Referring to "justice" as if it were an object, such as "Justice will prevail," personifies and simplifies the abstract idea of justice.

Pathetic Fallacy

Definition: A literary device that attributes human emotions, sentiments and qualities to inanimate objects of nature in the environment

  • Pathetic – imparting emotions to something else (not derogatory)
  • Difference with personification:some text
    • Both differ in their function
    • Pathetic Fallacy: A kind of personification that gives human emotion to nature. For instance, to describe the weather as ‘angry’. 
    • Personification: More broad; giving human qualities and emotions to abstract ideas, animate objects or inanimate non-natural objects.

Function: It enhances emotional connection and can intensify the reader’s experience of the scene.

Examples: 

  • “The somber clouds darken our mood” – Pathetic Fallacy (inanimate object of nature reflecting a human emotion/mood)
  • E.g.: “The sparrow talked to us with its chirping” – Personification (Human attributes/qualities are given to an animate object of nature; it seems to be talking)
  • E.g. “The sparrow talked to us about the weather” – anthropomorphism (animate object of nature is actually exhibiting human behaviour)

Allegory

Definition: A form of extended metaphor; a symbolism device. The meaning of a greater, often abstract concept is conveyed via characters and events that offer themselves as metaphoric examples for the context of the allegory. 

  • Although the characters/events have literal meaning, the figurative meaning is what maintains the allegory. 
  • A figure of speech in which abstract ideas and principles are described in terms of characters, figures and events.
  • Although allegory utilizes symbols, it differs from symbolism.some text
    • An allegory is a complete narrative, involving characters and events that stand for an abstract idea/principle.
    • A symbol on the other hand is an object that stands for another object, giving it a particular meaning. Unlike an allegory, a symbol is not a stor

Function: Can be employed in prose/poetry to expose an idea or principle – often used to preach a moral lesson

  • To add different layers of meaning to works
  • Makes stories and characters multidimensional – literal events/occurrences stand for something more meaningful than what they actually are
  • Allegories can give insight into deeper ideas/principles

Example: Animal Farm by George Orwell is an allegory that uses animals on a farm to describe the overthrow of the last of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II/Communist revolution of Russia before WW2

Pathos

Definition: The quality of an experience of life that engages/stirs up emotions of pity, sympathy and sorrow. 

Function: Pathos is used to develop an emotional connection with the reader. Furthermore, the emotionality of pathos brings the characters/narratives/themes much closer to real life where emotions are very pertinent. Pathos can also be used to persuade, as in an argument, by making others appeal to you emotionally. 

Bathos

Definition: Derived from the Greek work meaning ‘depth’; bathos is when a writer/poet falls into inconsequential and absurd metaphors, descriptions or ideas in an effort to be increasingly emotional or passionate. 

  • The term was used early on to describe unskilled writers, but in recent times bathos has been used intentionally for comic or ludicrous effect.
  • Bathos commonly takes the form of analogies that are quite humorous to the reader

Function: It can create a humorous effect, highlight the absurdity of a situation, or critique overly sentimental or pretentious language. 

Examples:

  • “The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.”
  • Douglas Adams in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ uses Bathos quite frequentlysome text
    • E.g. “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.”
    • E.g. "There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. Its knack lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss…”

Caricature

Definition: Where particular aspects of a subject are exaggerated to create a silly or comic effect. This is typically seen in exaggeration of natural features.

Function: It highlights specific characteristics, often to ridicule or critique the subject, and can make social or political commentary more striking and memorable.

Example: Charles Dickens - “Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man, with a fat smile, and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system. Mrs. Chadband is a stern, severe-looking, silent woman. Mr. Chadband moves softly and cumbrously, not unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright. He is very much embarrassed about the arms, as if they were inconvenient to him.” – Dickens caricatures Mr. Chadband through words; the dominating impression that we have of him is a product of this. Words like ‘oily’, ‘fat smile’, ‘bear who has been taught to walk upright’ are all functions of this device. 

Cliché

Definition: Refers to a phrase that has been overused so much that it has lost its original meaning or novelty (as in a loss of vivacious energy in a person). May also refer to actions/events that are predictable in their nature.

  • Clichés were expressions that were once popular and fresh until they were used so extensively that they become boring and at times irritable. 
  • Note: Phrases that are continuously used don’t necessarily count as clichés. For example, the phrase “I now pronounce you husband and wife” in a marriage ceremony befits the occasion and is regarded as appropriate. 

Function: It helps to clarify and emphasize particular qualities, enhance understanding, and can create more vivid and relatable descriptions

Examples:

  • “As red as a rose” may have once been popular and cool, but nowadays is seen as a cliché and is not appreciated in formal writing. 
  • They all lived happily ever after.
  • Read between the lines
  • Head over heals
  • Fit as a fiddle
  • The quiet before the storm

Colloquialism 

Definition: The use of informal words, phrases or slang. Some writers use colloquial expressions intentionally to add a sense of realism to their work. By using such a device, the writer can provide more insight into the society where the work takes place. This sense of realism that is developed is effective at attracting readers as they identify similar mannerisms with their real life.

Function: It can also add variety and energy to certain characters. The use of slang could be used to convey the fact that a character is not as intelligent in that they do not use a rich vocabulary. 

Comparison

Definition: A rhetorical or literary device whereby two persons, places, things or ideas are compared. Comparisons are used in order to link their feelings about a thing to the thing they compare it with. There are four main devices used to do this: Metaphor, simile, analogy and allegory.

  • Note: See analogy and allegory for info.

Metaphor

Define: A figure of speech that implies a hidden comparison between two things that are completely dissimilar but have some degree of mutual resemblance or commonality. 

  • Metaphors are constructed by portraying something as being something else, even though this is not the case, with the purpose of conveying a message/meaning; this is speaking metaphorically    ‘Like’ or ‘as’ are not used to form the metaphor, but rather it is established as being true/real.

Function: It creates a deeper understanding of a concept, adds symbolic meaning, and enhances the expressive quality of the text

Example:

  •  Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players” – Metaphor of the stage to describe the world and men and women as merely players.
  •  John Keates – “Before high-pil’d books, in charact’ry / Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain” – Keates uses a double metaphor. Writing poetry is implicitly compared with reaping and sowing, and both these acts represent the emptiness of a life unfulfilled creatively.

Extended-metaphor

Definition: A comparison between two unlike things (metaphoric) that continues throughout more than one sentence. Often can be as much as a whole paragraph in length.

Function: It provides a sustained comparison, adds depth and complexity to the writing, and allows for a more thorough exploration of the metaphorical relationship.

Example: “Bobby Holloway says my imagination is a three-hundred-ring circus. Currently I was in ring two hundred and ninety-nine, with elephants dancing and clowns cart wheeling and tigers leaping through rings of fire. The time had come to step back, leave the main tent, go buy some popcorn and a Coke, bliss out, cool down.” – the circus is being compared to the author’s imagination. 

Simile

Definition: An open/direct comparison between two things/objects to show similarities between them. A simile is constructed using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. Similes introduce vividness and another layer of meaning into writing/speech. The comparison drawn by similes is an effective way for an author to convey sentiments and ideas. It inspires a life-like vivacity and imagination. They can offer new perspectives too.

Examples:

  • “Her cheeks are red like a rose” or “the soldiers were as brave as lions”
  • “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose / That’s newly sprung in June; / O my Luve’s like the melodie / That’s sweetly played in tune.” – Simile used to describe the beauty of his beloved.

Conceit

Definition: A figure of speech in which two vastly different things/objects are likened together with the help of similes/metaphors. It develops a comparison that seems ridiculous, but is nonetheless intellectually imaginative. A comparison will become a conceit when the writer attempts to admit a similarity between the two things of whose unlikeliness we are already sure of; for this reason, conceits are often startling.

Function: Conceits allow readers to look at things in a new way. While similes and metaphors are somewhat predictable, conceits can surprise and shock the reader by making farfetched comparisons. It is a tool used to develop interest.

Examples:

  • Conceits are often used in everyday life to make humorous or comedic gestures, such as the conceit:  “My life is like a video game; everyone is playing with it”some text
    • E.g. Romeo and Juliet - “Thou countecorfeit’st a bark, a sea, a wind;
      For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea,
      Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is,
      Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, thy sighs;
      Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them,
      Without a sudden calm, will overset
      Thy tempest-tossed body.”
    • Romeo compares Juliet to a boat in a storm in part of an extended metaphor.
  • John Donnesome text
    • “If they be two, they are two so As stiff / Twin compasses are two; / Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show / To move, but doth, if th’ other do. / And though it in the center sit, / Yet, when the other far doth roam, / It leans, and hearkens after it, / And grows erect, as that comes home.”some text
      • He compares his and his love’s soul to the legs of a drafting compass. He conveys that the bodies of lovers may be separate like the legs of a compass but are always joined at the top, a reminder of the spiritual union of the two lovers.

Connotation

Definition: A meaning that is implied by a word or phrase that differs from what it describes explicitly. Many words have connotations that carry cultural/emotional significance, and reading them invokes other meanings in the reader.

  • Some connotations can be negative, whilst others can be positive, depending on the cultural/social/personal situation. For example, the words childish, childlike and youthful have the same denotation, but different connotative meanings. Childish and childlike have negative connotations in that they refer to immature behaviour, whereas youthful has positive connotations of vitality, liveliness and energy. 

Function: It enriches the text by adding layers of meaning, evoking emotions, and influencing the reader’s interpretation and response.

Examples: It is common practice for writers to use connotations to deviate from literal meanings in order to create novel ideas.

  • Metaphors are words that connote meanings beyond their denotative meaning. Shakespeare – “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” – this connotation implies the fairness and loveliness of his beloved. He goes on to describe the fleeting nature of summer that passes all too quickly, and in the closing lines hopes that her beauty will last – “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”
  • George Orwell’s allegorical novel ‘Animal Farm’ is packed with connotations. The actions of the animals of the farm imply the greed of the human figures they infer. 

Denotation

Definition: literal/dictionary meanings of words as opposed to the connotative or associated meanings. 

Function: It provides clarity and precision in communication, ensuring that the basic meaning of the word is understood accurately

Example: 

  • The word dove in a denotative sense is “a type of pigeon… etc” whilst in literature it carries connotative pertinence to a symbol of peace. 
  • Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ - “And on a day we meet to walk the line / And set the wall between us once again. / We keep the wall between us as we go. / To each the boulders that have fallen to each. – The wall implies a physical boundary between the narrative voice and the subject (denotative meaning), however it also implies the idea of an emotional barrier (connotative)

Irony

Description: Irony is a literary device where the intended meaning of words is different from the actual meaning, often highlighting a contrast between expectation and reality.

Function: Irony can add humor, emphasise a point, or create a poignant contrast. It often adds layers of meaning to a text and can engage readers by encouraging them to look beyond the surface.

Example: In "Romeo and Juliet," when Juliet says, "Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing," she ironically foreshadows her own tragic end while expressing love.

Oxymoron

Description: An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two contradictory terms to create a paradoxical effect.

Function: Oxymorons draw attention to the complexity and duality of a subject, often highlighting conflicting emotions or situations to provoke thought or emphasise a particular point.

Example: "Deafening silence" is an oxymoron that emphasises the intensity of the silence.

------

Custom Form

Get your own copy of the Ultimate Guide to Literary and Poetic Devices!

300+ different literary and poetic devices with definitions, explanations, and examples to help you excel in your literary analysis

Thanks for sharing your details! The guide will be emailed to you shortly

Tropes

Figures of speech with an unexpected twist in the meaning of words, as opposed to schemes, which only deal with patterns of words. 

Figurative language

Definition: A form of language use in which writers and speakers convey something other than the literal meaning of their words. 

Function: It enhances descriptions, evokes emotions, and helps readers to visualize scenes and concepts, making the text more engaging and impactful.

Examples: include hyperbole or exaggeration, litotes or understatement, simile and metaphor (which employ comparison), and synecdoche and metonymy, in which a part of a thing stands for the whole.

Metaphor

Definition: When something is something else; “the ladder of success

Example: “Carthage was a beehive of buzzing workers”

Simile

Definition: When something is like something else

Function: It creates vivid imagery, makes descriptions more relatable and understandable, and can enhance the emotional and sensory impact of the text.

Example: “He was as unpleasant as a venerable disease

Hyperbaton

Description: Hyperbaton is a rhetorical device where the normal order of words is reversed or rearranged to create a particular effect.

Function: Hyperbaton can add emphasis, create a dramatic impact, or alter the rhythm of a sentence to enhance its aesthetic quality.

Example: "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put." — Winston Churchill. The unusual word order emphasizes the frustration with the original phrasing

Periphrasis

Description: Periphrasis is the use of excessive and longer words to convey a meaning that could be expressed with fewer words.

Function: Periphrasis can add formality, create emphasis, or add a poetic or rhetorical quality to the text. It can also be used to avoid repetition or to express an idea in a more elegant or elaborate way.

Example: "The elongated yellow fruit" instead of simply saying "banana."

Metonymy

Definition: Using a vaguely suggestive, physical object to embody a more general idea; ‘crown’ for royalty. It is used to develop literary symbolism; giving profound meanings to otherwise simple ideas and objects.

Function: The deeper level of meaning it produces draws the reader’s attention and interest. Furthermore, it achieves a level of conciseness and brevity. 

Example: ‘Hollywood’ is a metonymy for the movie industry, and ‘The White House’ is a metonymy for the United State’s Government.

  • "If we cannot strike offenders in the heart, let us strike them in the wallet."
  • “The pen is mightier than the sword”

Synecdoche

Definition: Using a part of a physical object to represent the whole object. It is rhetorical in nature, where the entire object is represented by a fraction of it in terms of its parts

Function: It creates a more vivid and concise way of expressing ideas, can emphasize specific aspects of a subject, and adds a layer of symbolism to the text.

Example

  • “Twenty eyes watches our every move” (meaning 10 people)
  • “A hungry stomach has no ears” 
  • “Grey beard” refers to an old man, and 

Pun

Definition: A pun is the twist in the meaning of words; a word is used in a manor to suggest two or more possible meanings. This is generally done to create humour or irony.

Function: It adds wit, humor, and playfulness to the text, and can also highlight the complexities and nuances of language.

Example:

  • “Broken pencils are pointless”
  • “Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses”

Zeugma 

Definition: One verb using different objects; a verb or an adjective applies to more than one object (noun usually) to blend together grammatically and logically different ideas. 

Function: When used well, it creates a unique artistic effect making the work more interesting and effective; it adorns expressions and adds emphasis to ideas in impressive style.

Example: 

  • “She lowered her standards by raising her glass, her courage, her eyes and his hopes.”
  • “She exhausted both her patience and her repertoire” 
  • “John lost both his coat and his temper”

Syllepsis

Definition Like zeugma, it also employs the technique of using one verb for more than one object of a sentence, however the difference is that in syllepsis, the verb applies logically and grammatically to only one. 

Note: Despite the distinction, Syllepsis is considered a type of zeugma; they are very closely related.

Function: It creates a unique, often witty or ironic effect, and can condense complex ideas into a single, impactful phrase.

Example:

  • “They saw lots of thunder and lightning” – You can see lightning, but you cannot see thunder. Therefore, syllepsis and not zeugma. 
  • “He works his work, I mine” – ‘works’ is correct with the first pronoun ‘he’, but is incorrect with the second as it would be ‘I works mine’. 

Personification (see above)

Definition: Giving human-like qualities to inanimate objects; “The ground thirsts for rain” or “The trees danced in the wind”

Prosopopoeia 

Definition: Very, very similar to personification. A figure of speech in which an abstract, imagined, absent or dead person is represented as speaking. Furthermore, an inanimate object given the ability to speak can be seen to be prosopopoeia (writer describes the cutting of a forest from the viewpoint of a tree).

Function: It can bring abstract ideas to life, create dramatic or emotional effects, and engage the reader’s imagination.

Example:

  • "The markets expect bold action from the central banks." – could be seen to be prosopopoeia
  • “ If x were alive today…”

Apostrophe (see above)

Definition: Addressing someone or some abstraction that is not physically present (the addressing of a personification)

Example: 

  • “Oh, death, be not proud”
  • “Ah, Mr. Newton, you would be proud how far we have come!”

Erotema

Definition: Asking a rhetorical question to the reader as a transition or as a thought provoking tool before proceeding. A well-structured erotema will lead the audience to the conclusion that the speaker/writer wants them to reach.

Function: It emphasses a point, engages the reader or listener, and can provoke thought or highlight the obviousness of an issue.

Example: “What would honest citizens do?”

Onomatopoeia

Definition: Words that sound like what they mean; the sound effect of the word phonemically makes the thing it describes; this makes the idea more interesting and expressive. 

Function: By using onomatopoeia, the reader is placed in the world of the writer’s world. They have an effect on the reader’s sensory experience; it emphasises and portrays.

Examples

  • Buzz, click, rattle, clatter, squish, snap, crackle, pop, gush, grunt
  • He looked at the roaring sky.
  • The rustling leaves kept me awake

Hyperbole

Definition: Exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.

Function: In literature, the use of hyperbole makes common human emotions remarkable and intense to such an extent that they do not remain ordinary. It can develop contrasts; when one thing is overstated and another is normal, this strikes the reader’s attention.

Example:

  • E.g. I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
    Till China and Africa meet,
    And the river jumps over the mountain
    And the salmon sing in the street,
    I’ll love you till the ocean
    Is folded and hung up to dry

Meiosis

Definition: Understatement; a figure of speech to make something seem less important than it actually is (the opposite of exaggeration). Usually, it is used to develop irony.

Function: It can create irony, humor, or a sense of modesty, and often serves to downplay something in a way that actually highlights its true importance.

Example: “I was somewhat worried when the psycho ran at me with a chainsaw (i.e. terrified)

Litotes

Definition: Litotes are a type of meiosis; a figure of speech which employs an understatement by using double negatives, i.e. a positive statement is expressed by negating its opposite statements. 

Function: Litotes are used to ironically understate in order to emphasize an idea or situation rather than minimizing their importance.

Example:

  • Saying “not too bad” to convey “very good”
  • “I am not as young as I used to be” to say “I am old”

Anthimeria

Definition: Using a different part of speech to act as another, such as a verb for a noun, or a noun for a verb, or an adjective as a verb, etc.

Function: It creates a novel and often playful effect, enriches language, and can bring attention to the word being transformed, adding emphasis or a fresh perspective.

Example

  • Gift him with Sports Illustrated magazine (as opposed to give him)
  • He sang his didn’t, he danced his did 
  • I am going in search of the great perhaps (as opposed to ‘question’ etc.)
  • My sea-gown scarf’d about me (Shakespeare uses ‘scarf’ as a verb)

Catachresis

Definition: A completely impossible figure of speech or an implied metaphor that results from combining other extreme figures of speech such as anthimeria, hyperbole, synaesthesia and metonymy. The term refers to the complete misuse of a word or a phrase, as in the mixed metaphor.

Function: For the most part, this misuse is deliberate as it produces a certain effect; it brings to our attention an impossible scenario/comparison, but on a figurative level conveys a specific message. 

Examples:

  • Hamlet says “I will speak daggers to her” – he can speak words, but no one can speak daggers. In spite of this, it is understood that he will address Gertrude in a painful, contemptuous way.
  • “The Oriel Common Room stank of logic”
  • “I reason with my cigarette” - One can reason with induction or deduction, but how does one reason with a cigarette? Here, the catachresis might evoke the idea of the "cool" kid using personal style instead of a persuasive argument, or it might evoke the imagery of torture--burning victims with a cigarette-butt to make one's point. This sort of evocative, almost nonsensical language is the heart of good catachresis.

Synaesthesia 

Definition: Mixing one type of sensory input with another in a seemingly impossible way, such as speaking of how a colour sounds, or how a smell looks.

Function: It creates rich, multi-layered imagery, enhances the sensory experience for the reader, and can evoke deeper emotional responses.

Examples:

  • “The scent of the rose rang like a bell through the garden”
  • “I caressed the darkness with cool fingers”

Aporia

Definition: A figure of speech in which the speaker expresses real or simulated doubt or perplexity.

Function: It engages the audience, provokes thought, and can emphasize the complexity or ambiguity of a topic

Example: The most famous example of aporia is Hamlet’s “To be or not to be”, introducing a fundamental uncertainty about whether to go on living.

Aposiopesis

Definition: Suddenly breaking off in the middle of a sentence as if unable to continue

Function: It creates a dramatic effect, conveys strong emotion or hesitation, and invites the reader to fill in the gaps, adding an element of suspense or intensity.

Example:“The fire surrounds them while – I cannot go on”

Verisimilitude 

Definition: In a work, verisimilitude denotes a likeness to the truth/appearance of being real

Function: It ensures that events/ideas are rooted in reality/plausible to the reader; makes them credible enough to relate to real experiences. The theory of verisimilitude leads to the idea of suspension of disbelief – a “human interest and semblance in the truth”

Example: 

  • In Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, Swift satirizes English politics and presents a critique therein:some text
    • “That for above seventy Moons past there have been two struggling Parties in this Empire, under the Names of Tramecksan and Slamecksan from the high and low Heels on their shoes, by which they distinguish themselves.”
    • Two rival political parties, the Whigs and the Tories, dominated England political scene during Swift’s time. In his novel the fictitious kingdom of Lilliput is dominated by two parties distinguished by the size of the heels of their boots. By relating the trivial disputes between the two Lilliputian parties, Swift relentlessly satirizes the insignificant disputes of the two English parties of his period. He achieves verisimilitude through this
  • “While some dislike the content of the novel due to its graphic nature, you cannot deny that the content certainly gives the book some Verisimilitude”

------

Custom Form

Get your own copy of the Ultimate Guide to Literary and Poetic Devices!

300+ different literary and poetic devices with definitions, explanations, and examples to help you excel in your literary analysis

Thanks for sharing your details! The guide will be emailed to you shortly

Schemes: structures & repetition

Schemes are figures of speech that deal with word order, syntax, letters, and sounds, rather than the meaning of words.

Parallelism

Definition: When the writer establishes similar patterns of grammatical structure and length.

Function: It enhances readability, adds balance and rhythm, and emphasizes the ideas or themes presented, making the text more persuasive and impactful

Example: “King Alfred tried to make the law clear, precise, and equitable” has parallel structure in its use of adjectives, while “King Alfred tried to make clear laws that had precision and were equitable” does not.

Isocolon parallelism

Definition: If the writer uses two parallel structures the result is isocolon parallelism

Example: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”

Tricolon parallelism

Definition: If the writer uses three parallel structures the result is tricolon parallelism

Example:

  • "That government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth." 
  • "Her purpose was to impress the ignorant, to perplex the dubious, and to startle the complacent."  

Antithesis

Example: A rhetorical device in which two opposing ideas are put together in a sentence/phrase for achieving a contrasting effect. The structure of phrases/clauses is similar, but the ideas presented are contrasting.

Function: Conveys meaning in a different manor and more vividly than in ordinary speech. In literature, antithesis can be used to examine the pros and cons of a subject matter, helping to bring forth judgment.

Example: “Setting foot on the moon may be a small step for man, but a giant step for mankind” – Antithesis of the steps emphasizes the significance of landing on the moon. This is a contrast of degree

  • “Evil men fear authority, good men cherish it” – a contrast of opposites
  • “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice”

Anastrophe 

Definition: Inverted word order from what one expects (also called inversion); common in Shakespearean language.

Function: It can create emphasis on particular words, add a poetic or dramatic effect, and make the text more memorable or intriguing.

Examples

  • “One ad does not a survey make”
  • Yoda from Star Wars speaks in Anastrophe. “Strong in the force, you are”

Antimetabole & Chiasmus

Definition: A device involving the repetition of a phrase in reverse order. Chiasmus is extremely similar and the two terms are often used interchangeably, however there is a slight difference. Antimetabole is a type of chiasmus, but not all chiasmus are a type of antimetabole. 

  • Antimetabole – a device that reverses the word order in a phrase to juxtapose the meaning; the grammar and words are the same, but the meanings are different.
  • Chiasmus – the clauses are inversely repeated and the two clauses in the phrase have opposite/dissimilar meanings 

Function: Antimetaboles can be used to ‘spice up’ language and offer greater depth of meaning. They deliver a play of words that is both interesting and useful in delivering a message. Antimetaboles are also often used in political speeches to persuade and inspire courage in an audience.

Examples

  • Antimetabolesome text
    • “It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men." Here, the exact same words, grammatical structure, and rhythm are used create the second clause with the opposite meaning.
    • “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” –the words and grammatical structure of the sentence is reversed exactly to contrast the meaning.
  • Chiasmussome text
    • “Charm is a woman’s strength, strength is a man’s charm” – Here, the meanings in the two clauses are opposite, but the grammatical structure and the wording are different, meaning it cannot be an example of antimetabole.

Hyperbaton

Definition: A device where the author plays with the regular positioning of words and phrases to create a differently structured sentence to convey the same meaning.

Function: In doing do, words/phrases can overstep their conventional placements and result in a more complex and intriguing sentence – adds depth and interest

Example” “Alone he walked on the cold, lonely roads” as opposed to “He walked alone on the cold, lonely roads”.

Alliosis

Definition: Presenting two alternatives in a balanced manner, usually including an either/or situation.

Function: It can create a clear contrast, highlight a choice or dilemma, and engage the reader by presenting a straightforward comparison.

Example:

  • “You can eat well or you can sleep well”
  • “You can smoke now and die soon or quit now and live longer”
  • “You’re either with us or against us”

Ellipsis

Definition: A device used to omit some parts of a sentence or event, giving the reader the chance to fill the gaps; it is the act of leaving out one or more words that are not needed for a phrase to be understood. In film, ellipsis can be the omission of scenes or parts of the story that are not of significance within the narrative. 

Function: It creates conciseness, can add a sense of mystery or suspense, and encourages the reader to fill in the gaps, making the text more engaging

Example:

  • Lacy can do something about the problem, but I don’t know what (she can do.)
  • She can help with the housework; Nancy can (help with the housework), too.
  • John can speak seven languages, but Ron can speak only two (languages.)

Asyndeton

Definition: Refers to a practice in literature where the author deliberately leaves out conjunctions in a sentence, while maintaining the grammatical accuracy of the phrase.

Function: As a tool, it helps to shorten the implied meaning of the phrase and to present it in a more succinct form. This ‘compacted’ version creates immediate Function as the reader is instantly directed and focused on what the writer is trying to convey. 

Example:

  • Read, write, learn.
  • ‘Breath gone, voice gone, scarcely alive he lay. Drained. Exhausted.’

Polysyndeton

Definition: Refers to the process of using conjunctions or connecting words frequently in a sentence, placed in sequential order/close to one another, instead of shaping the sentence by technical and grammatical means (where commas would be used and conjunctions used only when technically needed). 

Function: The use of polysyndeton adds dramatic effect as the sentence has a strong rhetorical presence.

Example:

  • “here and there and everywhere”
  • “Marge and Susan and Louise and Laura and Barry and Dale all planned to go to a picnic” – the polysyndeton serves to emphasize each individual and call attention to every person instead of assembling them as a group.

Climax

Definition: Arrangement in order of increasing importance

Function: It builds excitement and anticipation, highlights the most important point, and makes the conclusion more powerful and memorable

Example: "Let a man acknowledge his obligations to himself, his family, his country, and his God."

Schemes that break the rules; How to misuse and ignore grammar like a boss

Enallage

Definition: Intentionally misusing grammar to characterize a speaker or to create a memorable phrase.

Function: It can add authenticity to a character's speech, create a distinct voice, and make the text more engaging.

Example: “We was robbed!” or “You pays your money, and you takes your choice.”

Anapodoton

Definition: Deliberately creating a sentence fragment by the opposition of a clause

Function: It can create emphasis, add dramatic effect, or convey a sense of urgency or emotional intensity.

Example: 

  • “If only you came with me!”
  • “Good writers never use sentence fragments? Ah but they can. And they do. When appropriate.”

Timesis

Definition: Intentionally breaking a word into two parts for emphasis

Function: It can add emphasis, create a dramatic or humorous effect, and make the text more engaging and memorable.

Example: “I have but two words to say; Im – possible.”

Metaplasmus

Definition: Misspelling a word to create a rhetorical effect. For instance, to emphasize dialect one might spell dog as dawg. To emphasize the feminine nature of something, one might add –ette to the end of a word. In a casual setting, one might add –y to a word to turn it into an adjective (this is called anthimeria)

Function: It can convey dialect, emphasize certain qualities, or create a playful or unique voice in the text

Prosthesis

Definition: Adding an extra syllable or letter to the beginning of a word; it creates a poetic effect, transforming something normal into something interesting.

Function: It can create a poetic effect, add emphasis, or make the text sound more formal or archaic

Example: “I was affrighted by the use of prosthesis”

Epenthesis

Definition: Adding an extra syllable(s) or letter(s) in the middle of a word/between words

Function: It can create a rhythmic effect, emphasize certain sounds, or add a playful or distinctive quality to the text.

Example: 

  • Shakespeare might say the “visitating spirit came last night” to highlight the unnatural status of the visit
  • Ned Flanders will say “God-diddly-darn it!”, emphasizing his quirky character in that he uses gibberish instead of profanity.

Anadiplosis

Definition: A Greek word which means ‘to reduplicate’; refers to the repetition of a word or words in successive clauses, so that the second clause starts with the same word that marks the end of the first clause.

Function: Successive repetition of the word adds emphasis to the main idea, bringing focus to the area of anadiplosis. It can also be used to decorate phrases and speech to make them more effective and persuasive, much like alliteration.

  • Anadiplosis is part of another figure of speech called chiasmus which involves the reversal of structure between the two clauses, such as in ‘Forget what you want to remember, and remember what you want to forget’. some text
    • Anadiplosis however does not always have to have a complete reversal of structure. Furthermore, the two clauses do not need to have contrasting meaning (as in chiasmus)
    • E.g. “He retained his virtues amidst all his – misfortunes — misfortunes which no prudence could foresee or prevent.” – The anadiplosis directs the reader’s attention to the main idea (that of misfortune) that he is discussing. 

Example:

  • E.g. ‘When I give, I give myself”
  • E.g. ‘This public school has a record of extraordinary reliability, a reliability that every other school is jealous of’

Gradatio

Definition: Gradtio is anadiplosis carried forward over multiple sentences.

Function: It creates a sense of progression, builds intensity, and adds a rhythmic, cumulative effect to the text.

Example: “Aboard my ship, excellent performance is standard. Standard performance is sub-standard. Sub-standard performance is not allowed.”

Symploce

Definition: Repeating words at both the beginning and ending of a phrase. Essentially, symploce is a kind of ‘full anadiplosis’ whereby a ‘loop’ is made in that the phrases will not only start with the same words, but also end with them.

Function: It creates emphasis, enhances rhythm and symmetry, and reinforces the message or theme

Example: E.g. “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they of the seed of Abraham? So am I.” – This symploce is used to reinforce the idea in the reader that his opponents are no better than he is.

Anagram

Definition: A form of word play in which the letters of one word or short phrase are rearranged into a new word or phrase with a different arrangement. 

Function: Anagrams provide instances of wit and humour.

  • In literature, anagrammatic names and places add layers of depth to a piece and further motivate and develop interest in the reader. 
  • Anagrams can also be used to provide vital clues necessary in unfolding a mystery in mystery or detective works. 
  • Anagrams can also be used by authors to create pseudonyms (fallacious, ‘pen names’) to hide their identity but still giving interesting clues.

Example:

  • ‘Mother in law – Hitler woman’
  • ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle – I am lord voldemort’
  • ‘Jim Morrison – Mr. Mojo Risin’
  • ‘William Shakespeare – I am a weakish speller’
  • ‘Hamlet – Amleth (a Danish prince)’

Anaphora

Definition: Repetition of beginning clauses to create an artistic effect.

Function: Furnishes an artistic effect to heighten the potency of prose/poetry. It creates rhythm, adds emphasis to the ideas and makes them easier to remember and more pleasurable to read. As a rhetorical device it adds potency to speech and can appeal to the emotions of the audience in order to persuade, motivate and inspire courage. 

Example:

  • William Blake ‘The Tyger’ - “What the hammer? what the chain? / In what furnace was thy brain? / What the anvil? what dread grasp / Dare its deadly terrors clasp?” – Anaphora of ‘what’ creates a rhythm and inspires the effect of awe in the reader
  • William Wordsworth ‘Tintern Abbey’ - “Five years have passed; / Five summers, with the length of / Five long winters! and again I hear these waters…” – Repetition of ‘five’ gives typical melody to the lines that matches well with the nostalgic tone. 

Epistrophe

Definition: Repetition of a concluding word in subsequent sentences. Epistrophe which repeats sounds, but not actual words, is called rhyme. Epistrophe is the counterpart of anaphora

Function: It creates emphasis, reinforces the message, and can evoke an emotional response by highlighting key ideas or themes

Example: “He’s learning fast. Are you learning fast?”

Epanalepsis

Definition: Repeating a word from the beginning of the clause at the end of it

Function: Epanalepsis creates emphasis on a particular word or concept, reinforcing its importance and making it more memorable. It can also create a sense of completeness or closure within the sentence.

Example: 

  • Shakespeare’s chilling phrase “Blood will have blood” emphasizes the cyclical nature of violence
  • “Man’s inhumanity to man” highlights the persistent and recurring nature of human cruelty.

Diacope

Definition: Uninterrupted repetition or repetition with only one or two words in between the repeating words.

Function: Diacope adds dramatic emphasis and can convey intense emotion or urgency. It can also create a rhythmic effect that enhances the musical quality of the language.

Example: “Oh, horror, horror, horror!” from Shakespeare’s Macbeth conveys the profound shock and horror felt by the character, making the emotion palpable to the reader

------

Custom Form

Get your own copy of the Ultimate Guide to Literary and Poetic Devices!

300+ different literary and poetic devices with definitions, explanations, and examples to help you excel in your literary analysis

Thanks for sharing your details! The guide will be emailed to you shortly

Rhetoric:

  • A technique of using language (written or spoken) in a persuasive and effective manner – usually involves the use of figures of speech and other techniques (such as anaphora)
  • Rhetoric is an art of discourse – employs various methods to convince or influence an audience. 

Rhetorical question: Can poverty be eradicated?

Definition: Rhetorical questions, in their nature, are not meant to be answered. They are used to give effect or lay emphasis on some point whilst no real answer to the question is expected. In Literature, rhetorical questions can be used as effective persuasive devices. 

Function: These questions are asked when the questioner wishes to emphasize a point or draw attention to something. The answer to the question can be obvious, but the point of the question is not to be answered. In a sense, they are rather unanswerable questions.

  • Can a person ever love too much?
  • Can a repeat offender ever be trusted to not commit another crime?
  • JULIET: “Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”some text
    • The rhetorical question being asked is very valuable; it doesn’t provoke an answer, but brings into question the nature of relationships in-between the two families. 

Example: 

  • Some more everyday examples:some text
    • Are you stupid?
  • Did you hear me?
  • Who knows?
  • Why not?

Fallacy

Definition: An argument that uses poor reasoning and is dependent on an unsound or illogical conclusion. 

Function: They can mislead or deceive the audience, weaken the credibility of an argument, and highlight flawed logic, often used intentionally in literature to reveal a character's weak arguments or beliefs

Examples:

  • Appeal to ignorance: When one person exploits the other person’s lack of knowledge on a specific subject as proof that their own argument is right.some text
    • E.g. Religious appeal to ignorance against science’s difficulty in explaining the origin of the universe.
  • Appeal to authority: Instead of focusing on the beliefs or points of the argument, the person will attempt to append their argument to a significant individual in an endeavour to make it trustworthy/better.
  • Appeal to popular opinion: When someone asserts that their argument is correct because it is generally accepted within the popular view.some text
    • E.g. ‘Lots of people purchased this album, so it must be good’
  • Association fallacy: When someone links a particular thought/idea/person with something/body else that is negative in an effort to infer blame on another individual/thingsome text
    • E.g. ‘Hitler liked vegetables, and with this in mind, I don’t trust vegans’
  • Ad hominem
  • Circular argument: A logical fallacy in which the conclusion is taken from the premises. In this sense, the argument has no validity at all.some text
    • E.g. “I accept that Frosted Flakes are incredible since it says so on the Frosted Flakes building”
    • E.g. “Wellington is in New Zealand. Therefore, Wellington is in New Zealand. 
  • Relationship implies causation fallacy: A misconception that A causes B when one views events A and B occur consecutively. some text
    • E.g. “I had toast this morning and then I missed my bus, and with this in mind, I can concur that having toast is bad luck”
  • False dilemma/dichotomy: When someone presents their argument as having only two optional alternatives.some text
    • E.g. “Either you vote for me, or you’re a Communist”
  • Illogical conclusion: When someone makes an illogical conclusion based on evidence.some text
    • E.g. “All Melbourne’ers are Australian. Dave is not from Melbourne, hence Dave is not Australian”
  • Slippery slope: Assuming that a minor incident/thing will lead to something more serious, or that A will inadvertently lead to B.some text
    • E.g. “If we permit gays to marry, then what next? People will start marrying their dogs!”

Allusion

Definition: A brief, indirect, passing reference to a place, thing, person, idea or event.

FunctionThe function of allusion is to provide meaning to something by way of reference to a subject matter. By providing an allusion, a writer can shape an idea/theme/concept in ways that are not so obvious at first glance. 

Example: The allusion does not describe or outline the subject matter to which it refers, as it is only a passing reference. It is up to the reader to make the connection to the subject being mentioned and realise the importance of it within the text.

  • Eg: “This place is like the Garden of Eden!” – A biblical allusion
  • E.g. “The rise in poverty will unlock the Pandora’s box of crimes” – Pandora’s box an allusion to Greek Mythology

Anachronism

Definition: Derived from the Greek word anachronous meaning ‘against time’.

Function: Anachronism is an error of chronology or timeline in a literary piece; anything that occurs out of time. Sometimes, anachronism can be confused with mistakes due to lack of research, however in other circumstances anachronistic elements are included in order to convey meaning.

Examples:

  • A painting that depicts aristotle wearing a wrist-watch
  • A painting of the interior of a roman castle that shows a modern clock on the wall
  • These could be errors due to carelessness or lack of research. However, sometimes anachronism is used for artistic effect. It depends on the context. 

Archaism

Definition: The use of a form of speech or writing that is out-dated and no longer current. Literary archaisms seek to evolve the style of older speech and writing, whilst lexical archaisms, seeming not to have a purpose in mind, are the use of words no longer in use.

  • A word, phrase, or syntactical structure that was used at some point in the history of the language but which has since fallen out of standard use is an archaism.

Function: Archaism is effective at creating a solemn or ritualistic tone, or to create an atmosphere of a bygone time or place (invoking images of a historical period).

Example: 

  • Most obvious example is “Thou art”

Note: Archaism differs slightly from anachronism. Archaism is primarily to do with speech, whilst anachronism is more to do with devices for visual effect (such as putting a book that was written recently, such as a communist manifesto, on a shelf in a movie shot hundreds of years ago, to achieve a certain effect).

Concession

Definition: A device in argumentative writing where one acknowledges a point or argument made by the other/their opponent. It shows insight and understanding of the other side of the argument and conveys the fact that the person is capable of considering the argument from different angles.

Concession: in writing or speech show that the writer/speaker is fair-minded and capable of logical thought; it is strong and influential as it finds common ground between the speaker and their opponent. 

Example: “Dad, I know that going overseas in Europe for two months may be expensive and potentially dangerous, but I have studied very, very hard this past year and I think I deserve a vacation and a break from it all. You know responsible I have been all my life, and we will be staying with my friend Nick’s family there; I am sure that nothing will go wrong.”

Inference

Definition: Act of inferring, i.e. to derive by reasoning, to conclude or judge from premises or evidence.

  • Inductive and deductive inferences can be made.
  • Inferences require an understanding of the underlying meanings of phrases and arguments. Inferences play a central role in understanding a text and considering the author’s perspective/argument. Without inferences the underlying significance of a text will be lost.

Function: Inferences require one to realise things that are not too obvious. In doing so, engaging with the text becomes a lot more pleasurable.

Example:

  • E.g. “It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete.” – the reader who makes an inference will understand that Gatsby’s life has ended.

Ethos

Definition: A means of convincing others of the character/credibility of the persuader. In an argument, ethos is very important; instead of just relying on the credibility/authority oneself, ethos is a means of conveying the fact that they are also likeable and worthy of respect. For example, in a toothpaste ad, a person may put on a white coat and talk about how good the toothpaste is; the added credibility that is achieved through the image of the speaker is an example of ethos.

  • Ad hominem targets the ethos of others (‘against the man’)
  • Ethos of a speaker/writer is largely achieved through their choice of words, eloquence and the legitimacy/merit of their arguments.

Function: It enhances persuasion by building the speaker’s authority, creating a sense of respect and reliability, and making the argument more convincing.

Double entendre

Definition: A phrase or figure of speech that ‘conveys an indelicate meaning’; multiple (usually 2) senses, interpretations and meanings can be understood from one phrase. The first is usually straightforward while the second is ironic, risqué or inappropriate. 

Function: They are used to criticize and provide entertainment, widely being used for ironic effect.

Examples:

  • Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution” – institution has two meanings. 1. Marriage is an important practice 2. It will make you go insane.
  • Nurse: Is it good den?
          Mercutio: ‘Tis no less, I tell you; for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon.
            Nurse: Out upon you! What a man are you!
  • Why did the nurse respond negatively when he gave the time? Well, bawdy = lustful and prick = penis; he presented a double entendre that has something sexual in its meaning.

Euphemism

Definition: Refers to polite, indirect expressions that are used to convey sentiments/ideas that are usually expressed using harsh, crude or impolite language/phrases. 

Function: They are idiomatic expressions that lose their literal meaning in order to convey something unpleasant. 

Example:

  • ‘Let you off’ is a euphemism for ‘firing’, and likewise ‘special child’ may be a euphemism for ‘disabled’ or ‘retarded’.
  • E.g. Shakespeare’s Otherllo, Act 2 Scene 2:
  • “Royal wench!
    She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed.
    He plowed her, and she cropped.”
  • ‘Plowed’ refers to the act of sexual intercourse and ‘cropped’ is a euphemism for becoming pregnant. 

Idiom

Definition; An expression/phrase that is not taken for its literal meaning but in a figurative sense.

FunctionThe purpose behind the use of idioms is to ornate/enrich language, and to help convey subtle meanings. They can also be used to convey a complex idea in a few words. 

Example: “If we play our cards right” and “Every cloud has a silver lining”.

Circumlocution 

Definition: A form of writing where the author will use long and extravagantly complex sentences in order to convey a message/meaning that could have otherwise been delivered using a much more simple, economic sentence (can be speech too).

Function: It involves stating an idea or a view in an indirect manner that leaves the reader guessing and grasping at the actual meaning of the phrase. Circumlocution is a device that can be employed to distract/confuse the audience or to mask the real nature of something. For example, politicians often use circumlocution to hide their true purposes or to avoid answering questions.

Examples:

  • Much of Polonius’s speech is unnecessary circumlocution.
  • Laertes speaking to Ophelia in Hamlet - "Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open To his unmast'red importunity." He is basically urging Ophelia to keep clear of Hamlet and refers to her virginity metaphorically through a circumlocution. 

Pleonasm

Definition: The use of more words than are required to express an idea, such as tiny little child

Function: It can create emphasis, clarify meaning, or add a formal or grandiose tone to the text, though excessive use can lead to redundancy and weaken the writing.

Vernacular

Definition: The everyday speech of the people as opposed to literary diction.

Function: It adds realism and authenticity to dialogue, helps characterize speakers, and can make the text more relatable and engaging for the reader

Malapropism 

Definition: The use of an incorrect word (entirely different meaning) in place of a similarly sounding word, usually to generate a comic and nonsensical effect.

Function: It creates humor, highlights a character's ignorance or pretentiousness, and can add a playful or comedic element to the text.

Examples: 

  • “He is the very pineapple (i.e. pinnacle) of success”
  • “a suppository (i.e. repository)of knowledge

Anecdote

Definition: A short, simple and interesting story or an amusing event often proposed to support or demonstrate some point and be humorous to the reader. 

Function: They can stir up laughter, disclose a truth in a shrewd way, or describe a feature of a character in a humorous and effective way.

Example: During my TOK presentation I used the anecdote of the ship to support my argument

Anaphora

Description: Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences.

Function: Anaphora creates emphasis, enhances rhythm, and can evoke an emotional response from the audience. It is often used in speeches and poetry to reinforce a point and make the text more memorable.

Example: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets..." — Winston Churchill.

Epizeuxis

Description: Epizeuxis is the repetition of a word or phrase in immediate succession, typically within the same sentence.

Function: Epizeuxis emphasizes a particular word or phrase, creating a dramatic or emotional effect. It can convey intensity, urgency, or strong emotion.

Example: "Alone, alone, all, all alone, / Alone on a wide, wide sea!" — Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

------

Custom Form

Get your own copy of the Ultimate Guide to Literary and Poetic Devices!

300+ different literary and poetic devices with definitions, explanations, and examples to help you excel in your literary analysis

Thanks for sharing your details! The guide will be emailed to you shortly

Key elements of literature

Antagonist

Definition: A character/group of characters who stand in opposition to the protagonist. Derived from the Greek word meaning opponent, rival, competitor.

  • An antagonist appears as a foil to the main character embodying qualities that are in contrast with that of the protagonist, thereby creating conflict and tension.

Function: Basic element of any plot. The antagonist opposes the protagonist in their endeavours and leads to the creation of conflict. The antagonist can be used to take the plot to a climax; this conflict can be resolves by defeat of the antagonist (victory, ‘hero’), or in the downfall of the protagonist (tragedy).

Examples:

  • Bob Ewell is the malicious antagonist in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. He is bent evil on ensuring someone other than Mayella is punished for the crime. He pursues Atticus, Judge Taylor and Helen Robinson after the case is finished, and even comes close to killing Atticus’ kids.
  • Dark lord Sauron is the main antagonist in The Lord of the Rings.
  • Hamlet by Shakespeare.
  • Eddie Carbone in ‘A View from the Bridge’ by Arthur Miller.

Protagonist

Definition: The central character or leading figure in a work. They need not be flawless heroes as in some works (ie: Superman); they are principally the central character. Sometimes it is hard to define who the protagonist is, as there may be more than one who stick out. 

  • In some works, the story features many characters who each have their own importance in the narrative, however there is always one that sticks out as the protagonist. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo stands out as the protagonist as everyone else’s destiny rests in his hands.
  • Other words: Hero, main/focal/central character

Function: The key ingredient for developing a story; it revolves around them. A well-constructed protagonist will most likely (as they are the central element) work as the emotional heart of the story towards which the audience connect and relate to their fears, joys and hopes. 

  • Protagonists in many stories are not shown to be perfect; they commonly undergo a change that serves to deliver a message/heighten the story. Sometimes this is in the form of a moral weakness.

Examples: 

  • Hamlet – suffers terribly because of his indecisiveness.
  • Harry Potter

Doppelganger

Definition: Translates to ‘double walker’;  refers to a character in a story that is a counterfeit or a copy of a real/genuine character. They may take the form of a twin, shadow or mirror image of the protagonist. Moreover, a doppelganger is a person’s past or future self. Doppelgangers of the main characters usually bear the ability to impersonate the original but have vastly different spirits and intentions.

Function: To highlight and show the undiscovered ‘other self’ of a character (such as dark side) or to bring more complexity to characters. Doppelgangers also give rise to conflict in a story; it can be inner (character goes about understanding himself by understanding his doppelganger) or can be when the doppelganger acts in a way that would bring dire consequences for the main character.

Example: The ghost of Hamlet’s father; the idea of getting revenge is put in Hamlet’s mind by his father who tells him he was murdered. The use of a doppelganger helps Shakespeare to form his plot.

Foil

Definition: A character that stands in contrast of another character in order to highlight the attributes of the other character (drawing a comparison).

Function: Commonly, a writer will construct a minor character as a foil to the protagonist in order to highlight attributes of the protagonist.

Example: Laertes is a foil of Hamlet.

Epithet

Definition: A descriptive term or phrase that expresses a quality or attribute of a person or thing. 

Function: Adds vivid characterization and can highlight specific traits, often used poetically or rhetorically. 

Example: "Alexander the Great" where "the Great" serves as an epithet emphasizing Alexander's extraordinary conquests.

Anti-hero

Definition: A prominent/central character in a work that has characteristics opposite to that of a conventional hero. They typically have both good and bad qualities, or a ‘dark side’.

Function:

  • Can serve a great purpose if constructed well. It brings ‘spice’ to the conventional hero-villain format and can be used to represent many things such as social flaws, human frailty and political culture.
  • Typically seen as an amalgamation of both good and evil. By combining both extremes, we get a real sense of a raw image of human nature (nobody is perfect).
  • In today’s sceptical/post-modernist society, the outstanding virtues of a ‘hero’ are often too good to be true. An audience can relate better to a character who is not void of human qualities such as fear, suffering and struggle.

Example:

  • Jay Gatsbysome text
    • He is bright, glamorous and exudes charisma, wealth and power. However, his success is built on an empire of lies; a bootlegger and an imposter, born as James Gatz, the tragedy of the work comes as a result of his dishonesty. His greatest sin is that he dreams too big and has outstanding ambition; for wealth, for success, but most importantly for the love of a woman who will not give it to him. He may be an imposter, but he is a dreamer; this is something that we can’t really blame him for and we can understand his nature.

Archetype

Definition: A subject matter in a work (character, action, situation, setting or theme are examples) that pertains to the ostensible universal truths of human nature. This ‘collective unconscious’ speaks of the life experiences such as love, death, religion, birth, struggle and survival that exist in the subconscious mind of the human condition. 

Function: The inclusion of archetypes give a work a sense of universal acceptance and connectedness. It also develops a sense of realism as the archetypical subject matters are differentiated from experiences of the natural world. 

Examples:

  • Archetype of ‘The Hero’: A character who exhibits goodness and righteous vivacity struggles against evil in order to restore justice and peace.
  • Archetype of ‘The Mentor’: Task is to protect the main character, and through good advice and training help the main character to achieve success. Gandalf in LOTR is a good example.
  • Archetype of ‘Good versus Evil’: Clash of forces of good and evil (situational archetype)

Hamartia

Definition: A personal error in the protagonist’s personality that is the root cause of their downfall in a tragedy. Also known as a ‘tragic flaw’.

Function: Can be used to Function a sense of pity and fear in the audience/readers; they can identify with the hero, in that they are a mixture of good and bad qualities.

  • Hubris: A classic example of Hamartia; hubris is excessive pride and ego in a hero’s character which ultimately brings about their downfall.

Example: Hamlet’s hamartia (indecisiveness) brings about his downfall. 

Argument

Definition: The main statement of a work (such as a poem, short story, novel or essay) that usually appears as an introductory point on which the writer will henceforth develop in order to convince the reader. Not only does an argument inform as an introduction, but it attracts the reader’s focus to an issue of which the writer is concerned.

Function: Literature is a powerful tool that can be used to communicate ideas and shape thinking. Arguments are therefore constructed in many works with careful choice of words, reasoning and examples in an effort to persuade the reader to the writer’s point of view. 

Examples:

  •  Argument at the beginning of a Charles Dickens novel: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” – Considered one of the best opening lines of novels. It is the main argument/statement of the novel and is developed as the novel depicts the adventures of the narrator ‘David’.
  • Milton in ‘Paradise Lost’ (Book I) with the first five lines of a poem: “Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste brought Death into the World, and all our woe, with loss of Eden, till one greater Man restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,” – The rest of his poem develops this argument.

Bildungsroman

Definition: A form of storytelling/narrative where the overall plot is based on the protagonist throughout the timeline of the story and features their growth; as the story progresses, the protagonist undergoes noticeable mental, physical, social, moral, emotional and often spiritual advancement and strengthening. Generally, this is proceeded by a tragedy that disturbs the main character; they leave on a journey of ‘self-growth’ or ‘coming of age’ in order to fill that void. 

  • Usually, the plot depicts a conflict or tension between the protagonist and the values of society. This is resolved when the protagonist comes to accept those values and hence is accepted by society, thereby ending the dissatisfaction they have experienced.

Function: It explores themes of personal development, identity, and maturation, and often reflects societal and cultural contexts.

Examples:

  • David Copperfield, a novel by Charles Dickens. Copperfield’s life is traced from childhood to maturity.
  • Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind experiences immense personal growth as she learns the value of friends and hard work under duress, without compromising her own dreams.

Roman a clef

Definition: A novel in which actual events and people are disguised as fictional characters

Function: It allows authors to explore real-life events and issues while maintaining a layer of fiction, often providing insight into the author's perspective and critique.

Catharsis

Definition: An emotional discharge through which one can experience a liberation from anxiety and stress, or achieve a state of moral/spiritual renewal. Catharsis is a Greek word meaning cleansing. Aristotle maintains that catharsis is the ultimate end of any tragic artistic work.

Function: It involves the Function of tragedy, comedy or any other form of art on the audience and in some cases the performers themselves.

Example: Aristotle (c. 350 BCE): “Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; . . . through pity [eleos] and fear [phobos] effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions” 

  • E.g. Romeo and Juliet poison scene. “Here’s to my love! [Drinks] O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die. [Falls]“some text
    • Romeo commits suicide, mistakenly assuming that Juliet had drunk the poison too. This is a moment of catharsis; many audience members may feel themselves crying at such a moment. The scene triggers memories/consideration of the loss of loved ones (death) and separation. 

Characterization 

Definition: A process that proceeds step-by-step in literature to highlight and explain details about a character in a story. It is an essential component of writing good literature. To put it simply, it is a device that allows us to better understand the nature and thought-process of any character. Good characterization allows us to understand and connect with the characters on a much deeper level.

  • Process: In the initial stage, the character is introduced. Following this, the writer often will talk about their behaviour. As the story progresses, the thought-process of the character will be observed. Then, the character is involved in expressing their thoughts/opinions and interacting with the rest of the characters. The final part depicts how these other characters respond to the character’s personality.some text
    • Direct characterization: Takes a direct approach; uses another character, narrator or the protagonist himself to tell the audience/readers about the subject.
    • Indirect characterization: More subtle way of introducing; the audience has to deduce for themselves the characteristics of the subject by observing their behaviour, thought-processes, rhetoric, appearance (image) and way of communicating (mannerisms, profanity, vocabulary etc.)

Function: It creates depth and complexity, makes characters relatable and believable, and drives the plot by influencing characters' actions and interactions.

Example:

E.g. The Great Gatsby is a piece of literature that employs fantastic characterization. One example is how Gatsby lives in West Egg, typically less trendy than East Egg. This highlights the difference between Jay and Daisy’s social status (putting characters in areas of symbolic status).

Dialect

Definition: The language used by people of a specific area, class or culture. It involves the spelling, grammar and pronunciation used by a particular group of people that distinguishes them from others.

Function: Dialect is a very powerful means of characterisation, as it serves to elaborate the social and cultural background of any character. 

Example: In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the dialect of Atticus (he talks properly, with correct grammar and pronunciation) sets him apart from the other characters who for the most part talk in slang and broken English. 

Diction

Definition: A style of speaking or writing, or a distinctive tone of writing determined by the choice of words by a speaker or writer.

Function:

  • Diction can also encompass the mood, attitude, dialect and style of writing; it is not solely limited to words. A work's diction forms one of its centrally important literary elements, as writers use words to convey action, reveal character, imply attitudes, identify themes, and suggest values. 
  • Function: Writers choose certain words to convey a type of mood, tone or atmosphere to their readers, enabling them to more effectively communicate their feelings and ideas.some text
    • E.g. some writers nowadays employ archaic terms such as ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ to build a Shakespearean mood or toon to their work.
    •  “And the trees all died. They were orange trees. I don’t know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with the soil possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasn’t the best. We complained about it. So we’ve got thirty kids there, each kid had his or her own little tree to plant and we’ve got these thirty dead trees. All these kids looking at these little brown sticks, it was depressing.”some text
      • The use of words such as (in bold above) give a gloomy and morose tone to the passage.

Conflict

Definition; A device used for expressing a resistance the protagonist finds in achieving their aims/dreams. It is a struggle between two opposing forces and is sometimes seen between protagonist/antagonist.

Function:

  • The conflict can have external aggressors (as in the case of pro v antagonist) or can be in the form of self-conflict. 
  • Conflicts are essential elements of any storyline; the resolution of conflict is a means to entertain the reader.

Example:

  • Hamlet’s internal conflict is the main conflict in the play. He reveals his state of mind in Act 3 Scene 1 in his “To be, or not to be” soliloquy.some text
    • Hamlet wants to kill Claudius, but he also looks for proof to justify such action that would ultimately 
    • Hamlet’s internal conflict, categorized as indecisiveness, almost gets everyone killed at the end of the play.

Motif

Description: A motif is a recurring element, such as a symbol, theme, or idea, that has symbolic significance in a literary work.

Function: Motifs help to develop and inform the text’s major themes and can create cohesion and resonance throughout the narrative.

Example: In F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," the motif of the green light represents Gatsby's unattainable dreams and the American Dream.

In media res

Definition: In or around the middle of a sequence of events as in a literary narrative.

Function: It immediately engages the reader, creates intrigue, and allows for backstory to be revealed gradually, enhancing suspense and interest.

Prolepsis

Definition: Also called flash-forward. It is when the plot of the narrative goes ahead of time, i.e. a scene deviates from the chronological order of the story. 

  • Prolepsis is similar to foreshadowing.some text
    • Foreshadowing hints at future events without interruption of the current chronology within the narrative. Foreshadowing predicts future events, but is not bound to take place later as ‘red herring’.
    • Prolepsis on the other hand is an interjected scene that takes the narrative forward in time. 

Function: By giving a flash forward, the writer gives logical sense to the actions that the characters make in the narrative; the reader will have greater understanding of the interpersonal workings of the character as they know what they are heading towards. Moreover, by knowing what will eventually happen, the reader may feel more interested to discover what is going to happen. 

Example: “So the two brothers and their murder’d man
Rode past fair Florence,” – Lorenzo is called “their murder’d man”, and is therefore taking the form of his future self who is murdered by the two brothers.

Foreshadowing

Definition: Giving hints towards what happens in the future of the narrative. It develops the expectations of the reader as to what is going to happen.

Function: Function of foreshadowing is to build anticipation and thus add dramatic tension to a narrative. 

  • False cues and ‘red herrings’ are often used to give false clues/distract readers.

Red Herring

Definition: A kind of fallacy that is introduced in a discussion/argument with the purpose of diverting the attention of others from the original issues.

Function: It can be used to mislead or disguise. In thriller stories it is used frequently to distract the reader from identifying the real culprit.

Example: The character of “Bishop Aringarosa” in Dan Brown’s novel Da Vinci Code serves as an example of a red herring throughout the novel. The character is presented in such a way that the readers suspect him to be the mastermind of the whole conspiracy in the church. Later it was revealed that he was innocent. This example of a red herring in the novel distracts the readers from who the real bad person is and thus, adds to the mystery of the story. Interestingly, the Italian surname of the bishop “Aringarosa” translates in English as “red herring”.

Flashback

Definition: An interruption in a chronological sequence of an event of earlier occurrence. 

Function: By doing so, the writer allows the reader insight into the inner motivation of the character and provides background to the current place in the narrative. It is a useful device for characterization and making the conflict more intricate and personal. Flashbacks also convey the richness of the experience of human time. 

Climax

Definition: A point in the narrative at which the conflict or tension comes to its highest point. 

Function: It is a structural part of the plot and is often referred to as the ‘crisis’. Moreover, a decisive moment/turning point usually occurs here; the climax is the point at which the conflict reaches its peak, calling for resolution or denouement.

Example: In Romeo and Juliet, the story reaches climax in Act 3 scene 1. Romeo challenges Tybalt to a duel after he (Tybalt) killed Mercutio:

  • “And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!
  • Now, Tybalt, take the ‘villain’ back again
  • That late thou gavest me; for Mercutio’s soul
  • Is but a little way above our heads,”some text
    • As soon as he kills Tybalt, he proclaims to himself “O! I am fortunes fool!”; he realises that he has just killed his wife’s cousin. This juncture works as the climax as the audience now wonders how Romeo will resolve the situation. Furthermore, it qualifies as a climax because all minor conflicts start to resolve and the story starts moving towards a more logical conclusion. 

Epiphany 

Definition: A moment in the narrative when the character achieves realisation, awareness or feeling of knowledge after which this newly gained insight influences the perspective  of the character for the rest of the narrative. 

Function: It can lead to a turning point in the narrative, drive character development, and deepen the thematic impact of the story by revealing underlying truths.

Denouement

Definition: The final part of a work (play, film, novel etc) or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and the tension/conflict of the work is explained or resolved.

  • In short, the resolution of the plot in a literary work.

Function: It provides closure, resolves conflicts, and clarifies the outcome of the story, often reinforcing the overall theme and message.

Example: The denouement of Hamlet takes place after the catastrophe, with the stage littered with corpses. Fortinbras makes an entrance and a speech and Hortaio speaks his sweet lines about Hamlet.

Convention

Definition: A customary feature of a literary work/poem

Function: It helps set audience expectations, provides a familiar framework for storytelling, and can be subverted to create novelty and surprise.

Example: the chorus in a Greek tragedy or rhyme in a nursery rhyme. 

Authorial intrusion Or second person narrative (when discussing narrative structure)

Definition: A device where the author of the poem/story/prose steps away from the text and speaks out directly to the reader. 

Function: It establishes a one-to-one relationship with the author and the reader where the latter is no more a ‘disconnected’ secondary entity or indirect audience to the progress of the story, but the main subject of the author’s attention.

Example: 

  • The Great Gatsby – Nick (as the narrative voice) frequently does this; he says things like “Re-reading what I have just wrote…” etc. which suggests an awareness that he is the author, and it is a deviation from the flow of the novel and his normal way of speaking.
  • In The Book Thief, the narrator often stops the story to have casual conversation with the reader – “In all honesty and I know I’m complaining excessively now’… I was till getting over Stalin, in Russia…. Then came Hitler.”

Deus ex Machina 

Definition: A rather debatable and often criticized literary device. It refers to the incidence where an author introduces an implausible concept, character or intervening force in order to bring resolution to the conflict of the story and bring pleasure in the form of a solution.

Function: The use of such a device is not recommended as it is seen as a sign of poor plot-making ability and carelessness; the writer has resorted to random, insupportable and unbelievable twists and turns in order to reach the end of the story.

Example: The suspense of the protagonist is finally solved by means of divine intervention.

Epigraph

Definition: A poem, quotation or sentence, placed at the beginning of a work. These few lines can be very simple, and can also belong to another writer.

  • Can be used as a summary, an introduction, an example, or to draw a comparison through association with another work. It can also be used to paint a specific context that is to be presented in the work.

Function: The use of an epigraph can be very intriguing, operating as a sort of thematic gatekeeper. It can be used to set the mood, or to take experts from influential authors to introduce the reader to your ideas. It deepens the reader’s interest in the narrative.  

Example: “Mistah Kurtz, he dead” is a line from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which was used in the famous poemThe Hollow Men by T.S Eliot to describe how modern people had dead souls like Kurtz of Heart of Darkness. It is because they have also taken materialism as their demigod and accepted its domination, submitting their spirits to it like Kurtz did.

Falling action

Definition: The action after the main conflict of the work that moves it towards its denouement or resolution

Function: It resolves secondary conflicts, decreases tension, and leads the narrative towards a satisfying conclusion..

Didacticism

Definition: Refers to a particular philosophy in art and literature that emphasises the idea that art and literature, as well as being entertaining and pleasurable, ought to convey information and guide understanding.

  • The term didactic is used to describe texts/works that also intend to teach, particularly a moral instruction. Recently, the term has been used as a criticism for work that is overly burdened with instructive, factual or otherwise educational information, lacking the pleasurable substance that gives literature its merit. It is a derogoratory term for texts that are ostentatiously dull and erudite. 

Function: Nevertheless, although didacticism can reduce literature to a tool for boring instruction, it nevertheless gives the reader the chance to improve their understanding/learn whilst being entertained. 

Example: George Orwell’s ‘animal farm’ has a lot of didactic components; the actions of the animals are used to expose the greed and corruption of the Russian revolution.

Pastiche

Definition: A literary piece that imitates another famous literary work of another writer. Its purpose is to honour the piece it imitates in a light-hearted but respectful manor (unlike parody, which is to mock).

Function: Pastiches can be literary works that include a wide mixture of themes, characters and ideas imitated form other literary works. 

Example: 

  • Numerous pastiches in the form of detective novels/stories are written in fashion of the original ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories.
  • ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are dead’ is a tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard. It is an example of a pastiche, drawing on the minor characters who appear briefly in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Some of the main characters are also included in various scenes.

Parody and Satire

Parody

Definition: A deliberately exaggerated imitation of a particular writer, artist or genre to produce a comic effect. 

Function: The humorous effect is achieved by overemphasising/overstressing certain nuances or features of the famous work it attempts to parody. This is very similar to caricatures where certain peculiarities of a person are highlighted for comic effect.

Example: Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a perfect example of parody. Grahame-Smith took Jane Austen's text and introduced zombies into the storyline. Throughout the reworked novel, he maintained Austen's writing style, voice, and even much of the original storyline, creating a new work that is recognizable as being Jane Austen's but that definitely isn't.

Satire

Definition: A technique used to expose and criticize foolishness/idiocy/corruption etc. of an individual figure or of society by using humour, irony, exaggeration and ridicule. It attempts to improve humanity.

Example: George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ is a satirical work that ridicules the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in its use of anthropomorphism of the farm animals that sets up an analogous comparison between the animals on the farm and the revolution’s greed, corruption and malevolence.

Understanding the difference

  • Parody and satire are quite similar, and often confused:some text
    • Parody imitates the style of composition of another work for comic effect. Parody is just pure entertainment with no goal in sight, just fun for fun’s sake. Satire on the other hand intends to do more than just entertain; it attempts to improve humanity and our consciousness of ideals.
    • While both convey humour, their goals are different. Satire stands for social or political change; it tries to arouse disapproval of a subject – such as a vice, object or faulty belief – by holding it up to ridicule, using irony, euphemism, exaggeration and understatement to show the paradoxes and idiocy involved in the subject. It can be termed humour and anger combined together, making a serious point through humour.
    • While parody usually targets a small target (a movie, song, person, character or writer), satire has the society in its targets.

Intertextuality

Definition: Denotes the way in which texts (any, not just literature) gain meaning through their referencing or evocation of other texts.

Function: Do you borrow phrases, expressions or concepts from other works and put them in your own? If so, then you are using intertextuality. When writers borrow from previous texts, it adds layers of meaing; it serves as a subtheme, much like the double narrative in an allegory.

  • Rather than referencing phrases from other works, a refined use of intertextuality involves drawing upon an ideology, a concept, or even rhetoric from others.
  • Note: There is a thin line between intertextuality and plagiarism. 

Magical realism

Definition: " A literary technique where the disbelief of the reader and writer produces a momentary shift in the real world wherein an element of the surreal enters and leaves with ease.”

  • A genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. Most commonly a literary genre.

Example: A character in a novel continues to exist beyond the normal length of life and is subtly depicted to be present throughout subsequent generations.

Function: It blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy, adds depth and wonder to the narrative, and often explores complex social and political issues through a unique lens.

------

Custom Form

Get your own copy of the Ultimate Guide to Literary and Poetic Devices!

300+ different literary and poetic devices with definitions, explanations, and examples to help you excel in your literary analysis

Thanks for sharing your details! The guide will be emailed to you shortly

Types and forms of literature

Pastoral

Definition: Relating to or being a literary or other artistic work that portrays or evokes rural life usually in an idealized way.

Magical realism

See above

Parody and satire

See above

Didactic

See above

Bildungsroman

Definition: A form of storytelling/narrative where the overall plot is based on the protagonist throughout the timeline of the story and features their growth; as the story progresses, the protagonist undergoes noticeable mental, physical, social, moral, emotional and often spiritual advancement and strengthening. Generally, this is proceeded by a tragedy that disturbs the main character; they leave on a journey of ‘self-growth’ or ‘coming of age’ in order to fill that void. 

  • Usually, the plot depicts a conflict or tension between the protagonist and the values of society. This is resolved when the protagonist comes to accept those values and hence is accepted by society, thereby ending the dissatisfaction they have experienced.

Example: 

  • ‘David Copperfield, a novel by Charles Dickens. Copperfield’s life is traced from childhood to maturity.
  • Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind experiences immense personal growth as she learns the value of friends and hard work under duress, without compromising her own dreams.

Parable

Definition: A story or short narrative designed to reveal allegorically some religious/moral principle or lesson, psychological reality, or general truth. 

Function: Instead of using abstract expression, parable conveys through comparison with real or literal occurrences, especially those that are widely relatable i.e. ‘homey’ or ‘domestic’, things that real people experience. 

Example: A parable is often an allegory in which each character represents an abstract concept – such as ‘intelligence’ or ‘honesty’ – and is illustrated through real-life events. 

Roman a clef

Definition: A novel in which actual events and people are disguised as fictional characters

Intentional fallacy

Definition: The erroneous belief that the meaning or value of a work of art is determined solely by the creator's intentions. 

Function: Highlights the importance of focusing on the text itself and its effects on readers rather than speculating about the author's purpose, allowing for multiple interpretations. 

Example: Analyzing T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" based on its themes and language rather than Eliot's personal intentions behind writing it.

Interpolation

Definition: The insertion of additional material into a text, often by someone other than the original author. 

Function: Can alter the meaning or context of the original work, sometimes enhancing it or providing new insights, but can also lead to misunderstandings about the original intent. 

Example: Later editors adding commentary or passages to Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" to clarify or expand on the original text.

------

Devices specific to poetry 

Ballad

Definition: A type of poetry or verse that is popular and effective in appealing to the emotions of its audience. It became a powerful tool for poets and lyricist to prepare music in form of a lyrical ballad.

  • Form: A narrative poem, often of folk origin and intended to be sung, consisting of simple stanzas and usually having a refrain (a regular recurring melody such as a chorus).some text
    • A ballad is a narrative poem consisting of quatrains of iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter. Common traits:
    • Beginning is often abruptsome text
      • The story is told through dialogue and action
      • Language is simple or ‘folksy’
      • Sometimes contain a refrain repeated several times

Function: It creates an emotional connection with the audience, preserves oral traditions, and typically features simple language and repeated refrains to enhance memorability.
Example:

  • ‘Tam Lin’ a traditional Ballad –“ ‘O I forbid you, maiden all, / That wears gold in your hair, / To come or go by Carterhaugh / For young Tam Lin is there.”
  • ‘The Ballad of Billy the Kid’ a modern ballad – “From a town known Wheeling, Wes Virginia / Rode a boy with six gun in his hands / And his daring life crime / Made him a legend in his time / East and west of Rio Grande”

Elegy

Definition: A lyric poem that laments the dead; Robert Hayden’s ‘Those Winter Sundays’ is elegiac in tone.

Function: It provides a structured way to express grief and sorrow, honor the deceased, and often contemplates themes of mortality and loss, offering solace and reflection.

Epic

Definition: A long narrative poem that records the adventures of a hero. They typically chronicle the origins of civilization and embody its cultural values. For example, Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’.

Function: It preserves cultural history, conveys the values and ideals of a society, and often involves larger-than-life characters and events, inspiring awe and admiration.

Epigram

Definition: A brief, witty poem, often satirical, that commonly deals with a single subject, ending in a witty or ingenious turn of thought. In prose, an epigram can be a witty, often paradoxical remark, concisely expressed. 

Function: It delivers sharp insights or observations in a memorable way, uses brevity to create impact, and often leaves the reader with a thought-provoking or humorous punchline.

Example: ‘Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind’ (an antimetabole). See http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-epigrams.html  for more. 

Quatrain

Definition: A rhyming four-line stanza

Function: It provides structure and rhythm to a poem, allows for varied expression within a concise format, and is versatile for different themes and tones.

Examples: 

  • ABAC or ABCB – unbounded or ballad quatrain
  • AABB – a double couplet
  • ABAB – known as interlaced, alternate or heroic
  • ABBA – known as envelope or enclosed

Couplet

Definition: A pair of rhymed lines that may or may not constitute as a separate stanza in a poem. Shakespeare’s sonnets all end in rhymed couplets. 

Function: It creates a sense of closure or emphasis, enhances the musical quality of a poem, and can deliver a punchline or key idea effectively.

Blank verse

Definition: A line of poetry or prose in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Shakespeare’s sonnets and Robert Frost’s meditative poems such as ‘Birches” include many lines of blank verse.

Function: It mimics the natural rhythms of English speech, provides a flexible yet structured form for dramatic and narrative poetry, and is often used to convey serious and elevated themes.

Examples: When I see birches bend to left and right / Across the lines of straighter darker trees, / I like to think some boy's been swinging them.

Closed form

Definition: A type of form or structure in poetry characterized by regularity and consistency in elements such as rhyme, line length and metrical pattern.

Function: It offers predictability and order, enhances the aesthetic quality of a poem, and challenges poets to express their ideas within set constraints, often leading to creative innovations

Example: A single stanza of Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening’

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Free verse

Definition: Poetry without a regular meter or rhyme scheme

  • The poem does not adhere to traditional/conventional notions of identifiable and explicit meter and rhyme scheme 

Function: It provides freedom and flexibility for expression, allows poets to break traditional rules to create unique rhythms and forms, and often focuses on the natural flow of language and imagery.

Aubade

Definition: A love lyric in which the speaker complains about the arrival of dawn, a time in which he must depart from his lover. 

Function: It captures the emotional intensity of parting, blends romantic and melancholy tones, and often explores themes of love, time, and the transient nature of happiness.

Example: John Donne’s ‘The Sun Rising’ is an example of this poetic genre.

Enjambment

Definition: A ‘run on’ line of poetry (the phrase/sentence continues from one line to the next) that is in accordance with logical and grammatical constructs (i.e. the conjunction works).

Function: Enjambment is a way of creating audible interest; it serves to add contrast and layering to the way in which the poem is read, much like a caesura

  • It also creates a sort of ‘tension’ that is subsequently released when the word or phrase that completes the syntax is read (called the rejet). 

Example: That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call that piece a wonder, now....

------

Metre

  • In poetry, metre is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in a verse. The study of metre is known as prosody.some text
    • Prosody is used in a more general sense to include not only specific poetic metre but also rhythmic elements of prose.
  • Note: A metrical foot is a unit composed of stressed and unstressed syllables. 
  • The amount of feet are included in the naming of meter:some text
    • Monometer = 1 foot, dimeter = 2 feet, trimeter = 3 feet, tetrameter = 4 feet, pentameter = 5 feet, hexameter = 6 feet, heptameter = 7 seven, octameter = 8 feet.

Scansion

Definition: The act of analyzing a poem's meter by marking stressed and unstressed syllables and dividing the lines into feet. 

Function: Helps to understand the rhythmic and metrical structure of a poem, revealing patterns that contribute to its meaning and aesthetic effect. 

Example: Scanning the first line of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?") reveals it is written in iambic pentameter.

Falling meter

Definition: Poetic meters (such as dactylic or trochaic) that move or fall from a stressed to an unstressed syllable.

Function: It creates a descending rhythm that can evoke a sense of decline, closure, or resolution, often giving a softer, more relaxed feel to the verse. 

Understanding syllable symbols

"/" (Stressed syllable):

  • Represents a syllable that is emphasized or given more prominence in pronunciation.
  • Example: The word "EL-e-phant" has the first syllable "EL" stressed.

"u" (Unstressed syllable):

  • Represents a syllable that is less emphasized or given less prominence in pronunciation.
  • Example: The word "el-E-PHANT" has the second and third syllables "e" and "phant" unstressed.

(/) (Stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables):

  • Represents a dactyl, a metrical foot consisting of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.
  • Example: The word "EL-e-phant" demonstrates a dactyl with "EL" as the stressed syllable and "e" and "phant" as the unstressed syllables.

Disyllables

Pyrrhic ( u  u )

Definition: A metrical foot consisting of two unstressed syllables. Also known as dibrach. For example, ‘and the’ is a pyrrhic. 

  • The pyrrhic exists in major and minor ionic meter (major is /  / u u and minor is u  u  /  / ). For example: And the white breast of the dim sea (both italics are pyrrhic). 

Function: It is used sparingly in English poetry as it can make the rhythm feel light and fleeting. Pyrrhics can provide subtle variations in meter and are often used to transition between more strongly stressed feet.

Iamb ( u  / )

Definition: A metrical foot with an unstressed syllable followed by an stressed syllable. 

 u     /

  • BeHIND – this is an iamb; u = unstressed and / = stressed. some text
    •  u       /         u         /    u    /    u     /    u       /
    • But screw your courage to the sticking place – Macbeth. These lines are built with iambs, therefore these lines are iambic. There are five iambs in each (1 pair of u and / = one iamb) therefore the line is in iambic pentameter.

Function: It mimics natural speech patterns, creating a rhythmic and flowing quality. Iambic meter is commonly used in English poetry, including blank verse, sonnets, and heroic couplets, adding a harmonious and balanced feel to the verse

Trochee ( /  u )

Definition: A metrical foot with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable (the inversion of an iamb).

Function: It creates a falling rhythm that can feel forceful or abrupt, often used to add emphasis, urgency, or a more dynamic movement to the poem.

Example:

  • Trochaic meter is seen in the works of William Shakespeare:some text
    • Double, double, toil and trouble;
    • Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
  • In William Blake’s ‘Tyger, Tyger’ poem, both Trochaic meter and iambic tetrameter. This develops a more complex and intriguing rhythmsome text
    • Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
    • In the forests of the night – Trochaic

Spondee ( /  / )

Definition: A metrical foot consisting of two stressed syllables. Spondees are found as irregular feet in meter based on another type of foot.

Function: It creates a heavy, deliberate rhythm that can convey emphasis, tension, or solemnity. Spondees are often used for strong emphasis within a line or to break the regular meter for dramatic effect.

Examples:

  • If I do prove her haggard,
  • Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings – heart-strings is awkward to pronounce iambically and is most probably a spondee.

Trisyllables 

Tribrach ( / / / )

Definition: A metrical foot; rarely seen in English poetry.

Function: It creates a light, quick rhythm and is seldom used in English poetry, often serving as a transitional element within more complex metrical patterns.

Dactyl ( / u u )

Definition: Metrical foot; stressed syllables followed by two unstressed syllables. The word poetry itself is a dactyl.

Function: It produces a falling rhythm that can feel grand or stately, often used in epic poetry to create a sense of momentum and grandeur

Examples:

  • Robert Brownings ‘The Lost Leader’ – gives verse “great rhythmic dash and drive”some text
    • Just for a handful of silver he left us – 3 dactyls followed by a trochee
    • Just for a riband to stick in his coat
  • Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking’. The dactyl becomes a pulse that rides through the poem.some text
    • Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking [a dactyl, followed by a trochee ('cradle'); then another dactyl followed by a trochee ('rocking']
    • Out of the mockingbird's throat, the musical shuttle [2 dactyls, then a trochee ('throat, the'); then another dactyl, followed by a trochee]

Amphibrach ( u / u )

Definition: A stressed syllable in-between two unstressed syllables, as in ro-MAN-tic.

  • Not used as an overall meter, but usually appears in a small amount.

Function: It creates a balanced rhythm that can be smooth and flowing, often used in lyrical and narrative poetry to maintain a gentle, rolling pace.

Anapaest ( u u / )

Definition: Two unstressed syllables followed by an stressed one (reverse of dactyl), as in com-pre-HEND or int-er-VENE.

Function: Anapaest can be used to develop a rolling, galloping mood to a verse, and also allows for lines with a great deal of complexity. This is because anapaest has significant length and ends with a stressed syllable, thereby allowing for strong rhyme.

Examples:

  • I must finish my journey alone – anapaestic trimeter
  • Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house – anapaestic tetrameter

Bacchius ( u / / )

Definition: A rare metrical foot. Not seen very often.

Function: It creates a rising rhythm that can add emphasis and intensity, often used to highlight important moments or themes within a poem

Examples: 

  • When day breaks
  • The fish bite
  • At small flies

Antibacchius ( / / u )

Definition: A rare metrical foot. Opposite of the bacchius.

Function: It creates a falling rhythm that can add weight and solemnity, often used to provide contrast or to emphasize a descending motion or feeling within the verse.

Examples:

  • Blind luck is
  • Loved more than
  • Hard thinking

Cretic ( / u / )

Definition: A metrical foot of an unstressed syllable surrounded by an stressed syllable on either side. The cretic is useful as a transition/joint in lines mixing iambs and trochees. For example, a poetic line could have two iambs and two trochees with a cretic in between. 

Function: The cretic is naturally useful for a comparison or antithesis; hence it is useful in advertising slogans and adages.

Examples:

  • La-di-dah!’
  • Eg : ‘Shall I die ?

Molossus ( / / / )

Definition: A metrical foot of three stressed syllables. 

Function: quite a jarring rhythm but can be used for dramatic effort

Examples:

  • “Bright white light”some text
    • Threes stressed syllables

Metric variations

Inversion of feet

Definition: The reversal of the regular metrical pattern in a line of poetry.

Function: Adds variety to the rhythm, creates emphasis, and can convey a shift in tone or mood.

Example: In iambic pentameter, an inversion might place a stressed syllable first: "To be or not to be, that is the question." (The stress pattern of the first foot can be inverted to emphasize "To be").

Headless verse (acephalous line)

Definition: A line of poetry in which the first syllable is missing from what would normally be a standard metrical pattern.

Function: Creates a sense of abruptness or surprise, and can emphasize the words that follow the missing syllable.

Example: In iambic pentameter, an acephalous line might look like: "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house" (missing the first unstressed syllable, so it starts directly with a stressed syllable "Twas")

Catalectic 

Definition: A metrical line of poetry that is missing one or more syllables, typically at the end, resulting in an incomplete foot.

Function: Creates a sense of abruptness or tension, and can emphasize the words that are present by highlighting the missing syllable.

Example: In trochaic tetrameter, a catalectic line might be: "Tell me not in mournful numbers," where the final unstressed syllable is omitted.

Caesura 

Definition: A complete pause in a line of poetry. A masculine caesura follows a stressed syllable while a feminine caesura follows an unstressed syllable.

  • A caesura close to the beginning of a line is called an initial caesura, close to the middle is called medial, and near the end is terminal

Function: The effect of a caesura is that the two separate parts are distinguishable from one another, yet somehow intrinsically linked together. The caesura creates a dramatic pause and a strong Function. This helps to add an emotional, sometimes theatrical touch and allows for a depth of sentiment to be conveyed in a short phrase.

Example: 

  • To be, or not to be—that is the question." (The pause after "to be" and before "that" is a caesura).

Elision

Definition: The omission of a syllable or vowel at the end of one word when the next word begins with a vowel, often used in poetry to maintain the meter.

Function: Helps to maintain the rhythm and flow of a verse by reducing the number of syllables.

Example: "Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame" (The elision of "the" to "th’" to maintain the iambic pentameter).

-----

Dramatic devices

Peripeteia 

Definition: A sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances in a narrative, often from good to bad.

Function: Creates a pivotal moment that dramatically alters the protagonist's situation, heightening tension and driving the plot toward its resolution.

Example: In Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex," the peripeteia occurs when Oedipus realizes that he has fulfilled the prophecy of killing his father and marrying his mother, leading to his downfall.

Hubris

Definition: Excessive pride or self-confidence, often leading to a character's downfall in classical tragedy. 

Function: Serves as a common tragic flaw that leads to the protagonist's downfall, illustrating the consequences of overreaching ambition or arrogance. 

Example: In Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex," Oedipus's hubris leads him to defy the gods' prophecy, ultimately resulting in his tragic downfall.

Structural elements:

Exposition

Definition: The introductory part of a narrative that provides essential background information about the characters, setting, and initial situation.

Function: Sets the stage for the story by establishing context, introducing key characters and their relationships, and presenting the initial conflict or situation.

Example: In J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," the exposition includes the description of Harry's life with the Dursleys, his discovery of being a wizard, and his introduction to the magical world.

Prologue

Definition: An introductory section of a literary work, typically serving as an introduction to the main story, providing background information or setting the scene.

Function: Sets the tone for the story, provides context, introduces key themes, or offers a glimpse into events that precede the main narrative.

Example: In William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the prologue is a sonnet that outlines the story of the "star-crossed lovers" and foreshadows the tragic events to come.

Epilogue

Definition: A concluding section of a literary work, often serving as a comment on or a summary of the main story, providing closure or insight into the future of the characters.

Function: Offers resolution, reflects on the themes of the story, or provides information about the fates of the characters after the main events have concluded.

Example: In George Orwell's "Animal Farm," the epilogue describes the changes that have occurred on the farm since the end of the main events, highlighting the transformation of the pigs and the farm's return to a state of oppression, mirroring the beginning of the story.

Soliloquy

Description: A soliloquy is a speech in which a character speaks their thoughts aloud, typically when alone on stage, revealing their inner thoughts and feelings to the audience.

Function: Soliloquies provide insight into a character’s mind, motivations, and internal conflicts, helping the audience understand their deeper emotions and intentions.

Example: Hamlet’s "To be, or not to be" speech in Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" reveals his existential contemplation and inner turmoil.

Monologue

Description: A monologue is a long speech by a single character in a play or other literary work, either to other characters or as part of a dialogue.

Function: Monologues allow characters to express their thoughts, narrate events, or convey important information, often providing depth to the character and advancing the plot.

Example: In Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman," Willy Loman’s monologue about his dreams and disappointments offers insight into his character and the central themes of the play.

------

Custom Form

Get your own copy of the Ultimate Guide to Literary and Poetic Devices!

300+ different literary and poetic devices with definitions, explanations, and examples to help you excel in your literary analysis

Thanks for sharing your details! The guide will be emailed to you shortly

Forms of drama/plays:

Tragedy

Description: A genre of play that presents serious and often somber themes, typically involving the downfall of the protagonist due to a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or fate.

Function: Explores human suffering, fate, and the complexities of moral choices, often evoking pity and fear in the audience and leading to catharsis. Analysis focuses on the tragic hero, their fatal flaw, and the inevitable consequences of their actions.

Example: William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," where the protagonist's indecision and quest for revenge lead to his downfall and the demise of almost all major characters.

Comedy

Description: A genre of play that is humorous and often features a happy ending. The characters and situations are exaggerated to entertain and amuse the audience.

Function: Provides entertainment through humor, often using satire and irony to comment on societal norms and human behavior. Analyzing comedy involves looking at how humor is used to critique or highlight issues.

Example: William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which features complex romantic entanglements and magical interventions, ultimately leading to a joyful resolution.

Tragicomedy

Description: A genre that blends elements of both tragedy and comedy, often presenting serious themes with a lighter, humorous touch or featuring a mix of sombre and uplifting moments.

Function: Highlights the complexity of human experience by juxtaposing tragic and comic elements, allowing for a deeper exploration of themes and character development. Analysis often focuses on the balance and interplay of contrasting tones.

Example: Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," which portrays the decline of an aristocratic family with both tragic and comedic elements, reflecting on change and loss.

Theatre of the Absurd

Description: A genre that emphasizes the absurdity and meaninglessness of human existence, often featuring illogical situations, nonsensical dialogue, and a lack of conventional plot structure.

Function: Challenges traditional narrative and dramatic conventions, encouraging the audience to question reality and the human condition. Analysis focuses on themes of existentialism, absurdity, and the breakdown of communication.

Example: Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," where two characters wait for someone named Godot who never arrives, highlighting the absurdity of their situation and their futile hopes.

Melodrama

Description: A dramatic genre characterized by exaggerated characters, emotions, and plotlines, often featuring clear distinctions between good and evil and designed to appeal to the emotions of the audience.

Function: Engages the audience's emotions through heightened drama and moral polarization, often providing clear moral lessons. Analysis looks at the use of archetypes, emotional manipulation, and social commentary.

Example: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by George Aiken, an adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, which uses melodramatic elements to highlight the evils of slavery and evoke sympathy for the oppressed.

Farce

Description: A comedy genre that relies on exaggerated, improbable situations, physical humor, and fast-paced plotlines to entertain and provoke laughter.

Function: Provides escapist entertainment through absurd and chaotic scenarios, often highlighting the ridiculousness of human behavior. Analysis focuses on the techniques of physical comedy, timing, and the use of misunderstandings and coincidences.

Example: "Noises Off" by Michael Frayn, which depicts the comedic mishaps of a theatre company attempting to stage a play, featuring slapstick humor and mistaken identities.

Epic Theatre

Description: A theatrical movement associated with Bertolt Brecht, characterized by its focus on social and political issues, using techniques that remind the audience they are watching a play to encourage critical thinking rather than emotional involvement.

Function: Aims to provoke rational self-reflection and inspire social change by distancing the audience from the narrative through techniques like direct address, visible stagecraft, and episodic structure. Analysis explores the didactic purpose and the use of alienation effects (Verfremdungseffekt).

Example: Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children," which uses epic theatre techniques to critique war and capitalism through the story of a woman who profits from conflict.

Modern Plays

Description: Contemporary works that often explore current social, political, and personal issues with innovative narrative structures, diverse characters, and experimental staging.

Function: Reflects and critiques modern society, pushing the boundaries of traditional theatre to engage with contemporary themes and audience expectations. Analysis examines the thematic relevance, stylistic innovations, and cultural commentary of modern plays.

Example: Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," which addresses issues of AIDS, homosexuality, and politics in 1980s America through a blend of realism and fantastical elements.

Rising Action

Definition: The series of events in a story that lead up to the climax, building tension and developing the plot.

Function: Creates suspense and develops characters and conflicts, engaging the audience and driving the narrative forward.

Example: In J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," the rising action includes Harry's discovery of his wizarding identity, his experiences at Hogwarts, and the increasing mysteries surrounding the Philosopher's Stone.

Round Character

Definition: A complex and multi-dimensional character with a fully developed personality, often experiencing growth or change throughout the story.

Function: Adds depth and realism to the narrative, allowing the audience to relate to and invest in the character's journey.

Example: Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" is a round character who evolves in her understanding of herself and others.

Static Character

Definition: A character who remains largely unchanged throughout the story, maintaining the same personality and outlook.

Function: Provides contrast to dynamic characters and supports the stability of the narrative or thematic elements.

Example: Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's stories is a static character whose brilliant deductive abilities and personality remain consistent.

Suspension of Disbelief

Definition: The willingness of an audience to accept the premises of a work of fiction, no matter how fantastical, in order to engage with the story. 

Function: Enables the audience to immerse themselves in the narrative and enjoy the story without questioning its plausibility. 

Example: Audiences must suspend disbelief to enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," accepting the existence of hobbits, elves, and magic.

Satire

Definition: A genre of literature that uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to criticize and expose flaws in society, individuals, or institutions. 

Function: Aims to provoke thought and encourage change by highlighting societal issues and human follies in a humorous or scathing manner. 

Example: Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" satirizes politics, science, and human nature through the absurd adventures of its protagonist.

Plot

Definition: The sequence of events and actions that make up the story in a narrative work. 

Function: Provides structure and direction to the story, engaging the audience by presenting conflicts, developments, and resolutions. 

Example: The plot of George Orwell's "1984" follows Winston Smith's life in a dystopian society, his rebellion against the Party, and his eventual downfall.

Subplot

Definition: A secondary strand of the plot that runs parallel to the main story, often involving supporting characters and contributing to the overall theme. 

Function: Adds depth and complexity to the narrative, enriching the main plot and providing additional perspectives and conflicts. 

Example: In William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," the subplot involving Ophelia and her descent into madness complements and contrasts the main plot of Hamlet's quest for revenge.

Agon

Definition: The conflict or struggle between the main characters in a narrative, often seen as the driving force of the plot. 

Function: Creates tension and drama, propelling the narrative forward and engaging the audience with the characters' struggles. 

Example: In Sophocles' "Antigone," the agon between Antigone and Creon over the burial of Polynices drives the tragic events of the play.

Anagnorisis

Definition: A moment of critical discovery or recognition, particularly when a character realizes the true nature of their situation or identity. 

Function: Often leads to the climax of the story, providing a turning point that deepens the emotional impact and drives the resolution. 

Example: In "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles, Oedipus's anagnorisis occurs when he realizes that he has fulfilled the prophecy of killing his father and marrying his mother.

Aside

Definition: A brief remark by a character in a play, directed to the audience and unheard by the other characters on stage. 

Function: Reveals the character's inner thoughts, intentions, or feelings, providing insight and dramatic irony.

Example: In William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Hamlet's asides reveal his true feelings about the events unfolding around him, such as "A little more than kin, and less than kind."

Avant-garde

Definition: Experimental and innovative works of art and literature that push the boundaries of conventional forms and techniques. 

Function: Challenges traditional norms and encourages new ways of thinking, often provoking strong reactions and fostering artistic evolution. 

Example: Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot" is an example of avant-garde theatre, with its unconventional structure and existential themes.

Blank Verse

Definition: Unrhymed iambic pentameter, a common metrical pattern in English poetry and drama. 

Function: Provides a natural, rhythmic flow that mirrors everyday speech while maintaining a formal structure, often used to convey serious and elevated themes. 

Example: William Shakespeare's plays frequently use blank verse, such as in "Hamlet": "To be, or not to be: that is the question."

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3

Heading 4

Heading 5
Heading 6

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur.

Block quote

Ordered list

  1. Item 1
  2. Item 2
  3. Item 3

Unordered list

Text link

Bold text

Emphasis

Superscript

Subscript

Cost-effective icon
Do you want to maximise your academic potential?
Hey there! We are Apex Tuition Australia, one of the leading tutoring companies in Australia. Struggling with concepts in school or striving to get the best possible mark? Our tutors know exactly what it takes to succeed in school.

Get in touch with one of our Learning Advisors to see how we can help you maximise your academic potential today!
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
PARENT / STUDENT APPLICATION

Ready to Start Tutoring?

With 200+ tutors achieving an average ATAR of 99.00, our tutors know exactly what it takes to succeed!

Start tutoring today!

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

  1. Sss
  2. Ssss
  3. sss

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.